Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I thought that I had figured out how to write dialogue, then someone pointed out an error I've made. It's irritating because I thought I had dealt with the issue and could move on to other things. As a result I spent most of my computer time yesterday searching for web pages on the topic. The original plan was to learn about proper punctuation in dialogue, but I ended up reading about how to write too. The only advice that I've found that I can't follow is to read the dialogue out loud. I don't speak English though I write it and trying to read it out loud will only complicate things. People have suggested Textaloud, a program that turns text into speech and I might use it in the future.

Thumb-rules for me to remember:
  1. Read the dialogue out loud. It has to sound as if someone actually said it.
  2. Dialogue should sound natural, but should also be "filtered" to remove unessential information, words and phrases.
  3. Fragmented and grammatically incorrect can be correct in dialogue.
  4. Keep it short (as often as possible), 5 words or less per sentence.
  5. The three-sentence-rule: Don't give your character more than three uninterrupted sentences at once.
  6. Telling (instead of showing) is still telling even if it's in dialogue. 
  7. Don't repeat words, phrases, names and so on unless it's essential for the story/dialogue.
  8. People pause and do things as they speak. (Don't over do it.)
  9. People interact when talking. They wait for a response and decide what to tell, or not, based on that.
  10. "Talking-head syndrome"- Non-stop dialogue that moves too fast. "Stop-and-go dialogue" - dialogue punctuated by too much "action".
  11. People don't tell it all when they speak nor do they tell each other things they already know.
  12. Be true to the character as well as the situation. How would they react and speak? Make sure that the characters don't use each others key words and phrases.
  13. All dialogue should move the story forward or reveal something about the character. If it doesn't then Kill it.
  14. Use dialogue tags to avoid confusion about who's speaking. Common tags (said) are invisible as long as they are not over used, other tags should only be used when it's necessary since they might interrupt the flow of the dialogue.
  15. Dialogue should be self-sufficient and not requiring explanation. It is not the place to append wordy character descriptions.
  16. Don't write in accents and dialects unless you know what you are doing. Don't fake it unless you're writing a parody of the character.

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