Apr 03


             Here’s an example of how NOT to write dialogue because no one will believe it.  It may be grammatically proper and win the praise of your English teacher, but readers won’t react favorably at all.

            “Good afternoon, my younger brother.  How was your day at school?”

            “Wonderful.  We learned so much about multiplication tables it thrilled me.”

            “How fantastic that is to hear.  I share your joy.”

            “Is our Mother home, yet.  I want to go have a deep discussion about it with her?”

            “No, Mother is still working at her job at the bank.”

            “I will have to wait until she returns, I suppose.”

            “Did you happen to check our mailbox as you came in?”

            “Yes.  Here it is.  I believe it is all commercial advertisements but I will leave it on the table here for Mother to examine.”

The lack of conflict makes this a dull exchange and the words the characters use are totally unbelievable.   It is too easy to go the other way and have so little dialogue that it doesn’t convey much in the way of character or story.

            “Whaz up, dork?”

            “My I.Q.  Up yours.”

            “Bite me.”

            “Mom home?”



            “You check the mail?”

            “Nothing  for you, stupid.”

While there is at least conflict here, it takes up too much room for the information it provides and it tells us nothing about either character, name, age, sex — nothing.  Additionally this does not advance the plot much if at all and give us no idea where or when the conversation is taking place

Here’s a middle ground.

            “It’s about time you came home, pizza face.”

            “I had detention because you dropped me off late this morning.  Thanks for nothing, sis.”

            “You can walk tomorrow and be on time.”

            “Let’s see what Mom says about it.”

            “She’s not home, yet.”

            “I can wait.”

            “Did you check the mail?”

            “Yes, but no acceptance letter from beauty school or Idiot Tech for you.”

Now we have both conflict and two distinct sides, but it leads us to expect more fireworks when Mother gets home and when tomorrow morning rolls around.  This advances the story, defines character, gives us information (although not much) and it’s kind of entertaining to read.

What you don’t see here are the details about the characters, where the conversation takes place, or even who exactly is speaking.

In some ways it’s good to keep the descriptive adjectives to a minimum and some writers prefer nothing more than, “he said, she said, or he asked or she asked.”  These kinds of dialogue tags if simple are almost invisible.  However, when these are read aloud — for Audio Books, etc., they become very boring.

These days elaborate dialogue tags such as “she exaggerated”, “he queried”, or “they exclaimed” can be too much.  To avoid this and the keep from using only the simplest of dialogue tags, the writer has to have characters each speak distinctively or at least maintain the same side of the war of words through what they say.  It’s pretty easy to keep track of who is saying what if your characters maintain their position in the verbal exchange and you punctuate it correctly.

It is, however, better to sprinkle in a little description in the dialogue.

“It’s about time you came home, pizza face.” Daisy said sprawled on the living room couch in short shorts and a tank top as she surfed the web on her tablet while letting her bright pink nail polish dry on her foam rubber separated toes.

            “I had detention,” Wilber said dropping his backpack in the chair no one used since Dad died two years ago.  “Why, you ask?” kicking off his unlaced high top sneakers.  “Because you dropped me off late this morning.  Thanks for nothing, sis.”

            “You can walk tomorrow and be on time,” she said without even taking her eyes off her browsing.

            “Let’s see what Mom says about it.”

            “She’s not home, yet.”

            “I can wait.”  He stood over her beside the couch and added, “As I recall, taking me to school — on time — was one of the reasons for Mom’s letting you get a car in the first place.”

            Looking up, Daisy totally ignored her younger brother’s objections.  “Did you check the mail?”

            “Yes,” he smiled, “but no acceptance letter for beauty school or Idiot Tech for you.”

Description helps make dialogue move and contributes to the images of the story.  In fact, dialogue is much more entertaining if delivered by characters who are doing something rather than simply being talking heads no matter how wonder the dialogue itself may be.

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