Dialogue Toolbox

by | Apr 2, 2023 | 0 comments

The best Writer’s Dialogue Toolbox that will change your life!!!

Before we start, this is very important!

Focus on good dialogue in your revisions and rewrites.
The first draft doesn’t matter. Just keep writing until the first draft is done. You can’t edit blank pages.

How do you know if the dialogue is bad? Most writers fall into the pits of bad dialogue and most professors or industry professionals will throw around the phrase “on the nose.”

To take you out of the amateur writer arena, here’s your dialogue toolbox.

So, what is on the nose? It’s when your dialogue is obvious and basic. 
Why it’s mostly bad: It’s 2 dimensional. We want everything from our characters to be 3D, complex, and realistic/authentic.

Subtext: Try not to say everything outright. It’s more authentic if the audience and the characters understand below-the-surface conversations. Plus, it’s a powerful characterization tool.

  • How can you have a conversation between two people and reveal things like who they are, the undertones of parent and child relationship woes, or political motivations?

But not every dialogue should contain subtext. It’s like showing and telling; you must blend the two and at the right time. If there is a subtext-rich scene, maybe it’s not necessary to reveal subtext in your dialogue.

If you find yourself second-guessing dialogue, just remember: never small talk, never mundane interactions like asking characters how they are doing, the weather, and so on.

What counts is what is meant, not necessarily what is said.

Ask yourself: What is the purpose of the exchange between the characters?

  • Does it reveal character or characterize?
  • Does the dialogue create tension?
  • Does it contribute to a turning point or climax?
  • Do the characters sound like them, or do they sound like you?

When you do your rewrites, take out:

  • Cliches (“Is that all you got?” “I’m just getting started.”)
  • A thesaurus of words other than said or asked
  • Most adverbs associated with said (Bella said angrily). More adverbs = more telling.
  • Watch out for too much dialect or foreign language. It will aggravate your reader.

How to format and punctuate your dialogue:

  • Capitalize the first word in the quotation marks unless it’s broken up with a break.
    Ex: “I should have known,” Lori said with a sigh, “that he would break my heart.”
  • Put the punctuation (.) (?) (!) (…) (-) inside the quotation marks.
    Ex: “What’s your problem?”
  • When using an attribution before the dialogue, it looks like this:
    Bo said, “Come sit with me.”
  • When using an attribution after the dialogue, it looks like this:
    “I don’t like to sit with stinky boys,” Mia said.
  • Don’t capitalize pronouns after the dialogue:
    “I’m over it!” she said. “You are?” he asked.

Avoid dialogue tags like she giggled, she sighed, she smiled, etc.
It works if she said with a giggle, sigh, or smile. 

Some last tips:
Balance out your dialogue with exposition and narration. Too much dialogue, and it’s tiresome for the reader. Too little, and it sounds like a creative nonfiction and will bore your reader.

Make sure you break up your dialogue with actions, background noise, or emotional facial descriptions. That is how authentic conversations are done, so make it visual for the reader.

If you are writing historical fiction, it’s subjective on how contemporary you want it to be (ie. Romeo Juliet 1996 version). To stick with the historical setting, keep the anachronisms and slang in check but don’t go overboard with trying to sound overly ancient or medieval; it is hard to let the storytelling flow if the reader is tripping up on the aged linguistics.

Now go create some authentically meaningful, twisted, sultry, powerful, enlightening, or funny conversations!

Cheers!

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AUTHOR BIO

A.R. Garrett is writing her debut historical fiction series, Atalanta & The Amazons. As a writer of the ancient world, she excavates facts & dissects mythology to spotlight the most prolific warrior women lost in the shadows of our history books—adding a touch of fantasy for the daydreamer in all of us.

A.R. Garrett has a degree in Business and English with a concentration in fiction writing from SNHU, and is currently working on a double masters in Creative Writing and Ancient History. She’s been a freelance fiction editor since 2018 and created a platform to help other women writers on FB:  www.facebook.com/groups/supportingwomenwriters

If you are a lover of Classical Greek myth retellings from a female perspective, connect with her on IG www.instagram.com/a.r.garrett or www.argarrett.com

When she’s not wrangling her two boys in the mountains of Colorado and trying endlessly to understand the mystical world of algorithms, she loves handwritten letters sealed with a wax stamp, and appreciates a dang-good brownie.

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