Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Delivering Delectable Dialogues

Whenever I read a book, I look forward to the pages filled with dialogues. Not only do they provide a respite from the descriptions but also help me in  understanding  the scene and  familiarize me with the characters. The way they talk, the way they think.

I will share nuggets about dialogues  which I have gathered from several sources, including my own insights from the books I have read  and liked and also from the assignments of my students: why I liked some dialogues more than  others.
1.  Dialogues should be as natural as possible. For this we have to be good listeners. We should listen to how people talk. Stilted and  forced  dialogues hamper a great scene.  

2.  Long Dialogues  are boring. Just like long descriptions can put readers to sleep so can long dialogues.

3.  Dialogues with too much information can grate on the nerves. It becomes obvious that the author has made the dialogue a dumping ground for information overload. Add the information little by little. Let  readers get used to  first lot of information before the next lot is piled upon  them.

4. Overdoing of dialogue tags detract from the actual dialogues. Sometimes  “ she said,  he replied, ” are better than fancy dialogues tags which distract the readers’ attention from the actual dialogues.

5.  Whenever there is a dialogue between two people, dialogue tags can be done away with. The reader is intelligent and is capable of understanding which character is saying what.

6.   Dialogue should always be authentic and real. We should  do our research well to check for the authenticity of dialogues. We should check our dialogues against people : will a doctor talk like that, would a police inspector say this, will a teacher speak in this way, will a teenager use that word?

7.   Dialogue should always be broken with action.  This way our readers will remember that our characters are real people engaging in some action.

8.   Slang, abuses  and stereotypes  must be given a shove.

9.   Dialogues should and must contribute to the plot.

10.  The purpose of the dialogue is to advance the story, flesh out the character and ofcourse provide the reader a welcome break from long descriptive paragraphs. And the dialogue should do all that.

11.  Dialogues should suit the occasion and  the scene.

12.  Dialogues  can identify characters. It would be fun to make certain characters speak in   a certain way. That way  dialogues become personalized like  badges for the characters.

I love to write the dialogues. For me it’s the fun part of my manuscripts.  I am guilty of  overdoing on  dialogue tags ( I hate to repeat a dialogue tag, I prefer to add variety) and I am sure my  long dialogues must be driving my editors crazy. What about you all?  How do you all tackle dialogues? Any dialogue guilts that you would like to admit?  


  1. Fantastic post and lots of food for thought. I must say that dialogues is something I have had to work on in my writing. I think dialogues are difficult in that as you say they need to come across as natural and as if you are overhearing an actual conversation rather than reading dialogue. I tend to read alot of my WIP out aloud when editing but especially so with my dialogue. If it does not sound right to my ear, it will not sound right to my reader.
    Thanks for the insight Rachna.

  2. I agree, I think that pages of dialog can get boring as if the writer listened in on a phone conversation, with nothing else happening. So, I think that making the dialog flow out of the natural story action is what we should strive for! Thanks for a great post Rachna!

  3. Just tweeted a link on Twitter about your post!

  4. Great post! I agree natural actions work well with dialogue. I do get turned off by dialogue which is monotonous and you do get the feeling that author had waffled just to fill the chapter. Repeating dialogue tags is one guilt I'm trying to avoid. Thanks so much for sharing these great tips!

  5. As usual, I enjoyed your post, Rachna. I know how tempting it is to add a variety of tags, but you are so right: "said" and "asked" are almost invisible, while moving things right along. I also enjoy inserting body language along the way. It's one great way to keep the character before the reader and much better than eye and hair descriptions.

  6. I'm a dialogue junkie. If I could, I'd write an entire book in dialogue, but then that would be a script instead and I wouldn't know what to do with it...


  7. Great post. I agree with your points. When I am editing my crit partners work these are the things I look for. That an the overuse of tags period. Sometimes you don't need any tag at all. Especially if we already know who is talking. Then it is just a tag for the sake of a tag.

  8. Great advice! This would be a good post to bookmark:) I think I may have to...

  9. Hi Rachna,
    I enjoyed your post so much that I retweeted it (after Jody Hedlund) on Twitter. Dialogue is, indeed, tricky but so, so vital, as you point out! I had to rework my dialogue in my first novel, realizing that the true-to-life "ums" and "ahs" that we really use are totally distracting to readers. And here I thought I was being realistic. My revisions are MUCH better!

  10. Kim, I agree with you that dialogue should come across as natural and as if you are overhearing an actual conversation rather than reading dialogue.

    Jody, making the dialog flow out of the natural story action is a lovely way of putting it.

    Talei, welcome to my blog. Long monotonous dialogues turn me off too. My eyes just glaze over and I am in a hurry to finish reading them.

    Elizabeth, I am working on trying to avoid overdoing on dialogue tags.

    Jai..I don't think I can write an entire book with just dialogues. I love my descriptive paragraphs too.

    Tabitha, I think some writers write dialogues without tags so well, we just know which character has said what. I am trying for that now.

    Karen, I realized how important dialogues are when I taught my students how to tackle dialogues.

    Melissa, Thanks for the retweet. Dialogues are indeed tricky and as they form an important part of our manuscripts they can't be overlooked.

  11. Oh, I thought I already commented on this post. I'm losing my mind. Great tips for good dialogue. Well thought out :)


  12. GREAT insight about dialogue! This is invaluable. I too need a respite between long narratives and long dialogue is not a winner in my book either. It's getting just the right balance of the two that creates a memorable experience. Well done!

  13. What great information. I'm actually a little nervous when I write dialogue, since I don't want to do any of the don'ts!

  14. I love to write dialogue, too. As a matter of fact, I did a post the other day where I said I write too much dialogue. I could write pages of it. And you're right, it does get boring if there is too much. There is a balance I have to find. And it is tricky. But reading books is a helpful teacher.

    Extremely thought out post. :)

  15. I am working to improve my dialogue. I was confused when this editor wanted all my sentences in dialogue to be complete--not fragments. That's not the way we talk and was unsure if I should make the changes. Ideas?

  16. Terri..I had a problem when I wrote my first book. My editor felt my dialogues were too long and complete. She felt no one spoke like that. She wanted shorter dialogues.

    Maybe your editor wants you to write little longer dialogues. Perhaps what you must be doing is keeping the dialogues abrupt, don't do that. When we talk we are trying to convey something. If the dialogues are in fragments maybe what you are trying to convey is not clear. Make sure that what you are trying to express in and via your dialogue is clear. Don't keep it short for the sake of it. Longer dialogues are perfectly acceptable.

    I will only be able to help you if I see a sample of your dialogues.

  17. Thanks for the post. I'am trying to gather dialogue books in an effort to improve my screenwriting skills, and this article is a good one. I am realizing there is no technique in dialogue writing. It should come naturally.