Why? Because dialogue presents your story through your characters’ hearts and minds. A story engages your reader rather than bores him with too much telling. Know that present tense ( I see) writing is far more powerful and readable than past tense ( I saw) and the wicked past perfect (I have seen). Yes, use some past tense narrative to tell, but keep it down. Discover how dialogues will juice up each chapter and hook your readers to keep going.
If your aim your book at agents and publishers, the first action acquisition editors make is to find a section of dialogue. If it is good, they start reading the rest of your book.
It is difficult to put just the right words into dialogue–to convey character and emotion. Avoid props or tricks to be professional.
If not, forget it. If you self-publish take heed also, because you want to make your book sell within each chapter. When your audience reads all the chapters because they are juicy with dialogue, you’ll have a fan forever who will go out and spread the good word about your book and you.
Eight Tips to Guarantee Your Dialogue’s Success
1. Don’t explain your dialogue. “You can’t be serious, she said in astonishment.” This dialogue patronizes the reader. As a book coach I call it lazy writing that undermines the reader involvement. You don’t want the reader to know the fact; you want her to feel the emotion.
So, show how astonished through dialogue or beat. (more on beats later) “She dropped the whisk, spattering meringue up the cupboard door. “You can’t be serious” or You’ve got to be kidding” –two examples of different characters. Readers learn about them through the dialogue. When you tell, your characters don’t come to life. You non-fiction writers who use case studies and stories, need to use dialogue too.
2. Don’t explain the content of the dialogue. Stop using -ly verbs such as “I’m afraid it’s not going well,” he said grimly.” This bit explains and is condescending. Grimness can come across by what you say and do–word choice, body language, and context rather than by how you say it. Avoid those telling adverbs that end in -ly. Take out all forms of “suddenly” out of you writing. Think instead, how you can show “suddenly.”
Examples: Percy burst into the zoo keeper’s office. Their callous mistreatment was killing the wombats and he wasn’t going to stand for it.
“Is something wrong, sir?” the zoo keeper said.
“Don’t you realize you’re killing those poor innocent creatures, you heartless fascist? Percy yelled. (We already know he’s shouting.)
3. Don’t repeat unnecessary information.
You have heard about “show, don’t tell” and all -ly forms tell.
Condescending example: “I’m afraid it’s not going very well, “he said grimly. “Keep scrubbing until you’re are finished,” she said harshly.
“I don’t know, I can’t seem to work up the steam to do anything at all,” he said listlessly.
4. Don’t open dialogue with speaker attributions.
Writers use them only to show who is talking when more than three characters are in the scene. Open with the dialogue. Place speaker attribution at the first natural break.
Instead of Vera said, “….” Use this: “I don’t know, she said, “I’ve always felt plungers were underrated as kitchen tools.
5. Use the verb “said” almost without exception. Don’t strive for variety like past teachers have suggested. Notice the bad examples ahead, and avoid them.
“Give it to me,” she demanded.
“Here it is,” he offered.
“Is it loaded?” she inquired.
“I hate to admit that,” he grimaced.
“Come closer,” she smiled.
“So you’ve changed your mind” he chuckled.
Choose “said” above all other tags. Professionals use “said” because it doesn’t draw attention–a kind of comma. You don’t notice it, so the writing flows along like smooth jazz.
Remember, verbs other than “said” tend to draw attention away from the dialogue. They jump out as mechanics. “Said” is more like a punctuation mark–it is graceful and elegant.
6. Refer to your character by only one name in each scene. For example, avoid Hubert said, then Mr. Winchell said, then the old man said. Readers may have a tough time figuring it out. You can use different names in later chapters.
7. Try a beat if you are troubled with “saids”. For example, “I’d never thought of that before.” Roger walked over to the fridge and helped himself to a soda. “But I suppose a good coat of shellac really would work just as well, wouldn’t it?”
Beats are good for more than two persons. They break the monotony of too many “saids”.
8. Use dashes–, not ellipses…for interruptions. Ellipses (…) indicate a trailing off–to show gaps in dialogue such as with a telephone call.
Know that your writing misses the mark to engage your readers when you only tell them what you know. Instead, incorporate dialogue into each chapter to enliven it. Creative non-fiction always includes dialogue to make it shine. Lively writing engages your reader continuously.
Which of these dialogue tips was an aha for you? Are you now more willing to use dialogue in both your non-fiction and your fiction? Think about writing promotional blurbs. They too will shine brighter with a little dialogue. Give an example here of how you repaired some bleak writing using dialogue.
Since 1986, Book Coach Judy Cullins helps you transform your book idea into a helpful, entertaining, and engaging book. Now you can get far more visibility and credibility for your business. Author of 13 business books include “How to Write your eBook or Other Short Book-Fast!,” and “LinkedIn Marketing: 8 Best Tactics to Build Book and Business Sales,.” Judy says, All writing is promotional—it must grab your readers’ attention, or it will fall flat.
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