Library Writers Group: Dialogue

5 Oct

A post about writing! These seem to be harder and harder to come across on my blog and I apologize for that. My class ends in mid-November and I want to use the second half of NaNo to get a jump-start on editing my YA novel. I’ve got a guide-book that I’m going to go through to help me and I’m excited to get back to it.

ANYWAY. Writing group. Before I get into our topic, I wanted to share some advice. Our library offers courses through Gale Courses that you can take for free (because libraries are awesome) online. One of our members said she was looking through them and saw one for writing fiction. She’d paid money to take the same class at a local community college! Just a reminder to ALWAYS look at your library resources first.

This month’s discussion was about dialogue. We’ve all read bad dialogue and good dialogue but there’s not a great way to define what’s good and bad. ‘You know it when you read it.’ Real dialogue is not fun to read. When we speak, we use a lot of filler words (“um, like, so, hm,” etc.) and there’s a lot of fluff that we add to make for polite conversation and small talk. In fiction, no one wants to read this! Our characters should be perfectly spoken and never bother to start a conversation asking about the weather unless it moves the plot forward.

Our moderator gave us a list of ten tips to help write better dialogue. You can read the full list here. I wanted to highlight a few in this post.

1.   Read dialogue aloud. I do this a lot! My husband probably thinks I’m crazy but it helps me so much. I get inflection, tone, and a good sense of pacing. I know when my characters are going to pause in their speech. Even when a conversation is supposed to be staccato, I know where breaks would be and it helps me visualise how they’ll stop and re-start the conversation.

2.   Don’t use dialogue to convey exposition. We felt this was overdone in internal dialogues more than anything else. Relying on internal dialogue to let the reader know how the character feels is a sign of weak writing and I’m very guilty of this. It’s the biggest ‘telling’ thing I can think of. My general rule is to avoid internal dialogue as much as possible.

5.   Having a character stumble over words, leave off sentences, and repeat him/herself is realistic but use it sparingly! It adds emotion to a moment well. In addition to the tip on this list, we also thought a well-placed ellipsis can add a nice effect.

7.   Using ‘said’ is fine. This one was debated. Some stood by that using words other than ‘said’ as dialogue tags make the writing more interesting. Some said to use other tags more sparingly as it can weigh down the text. People tend to read over ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ with no problem and it doesn’t distract from the flow of the story. We talked about using names to help mix up a conversation of ‘he said’ and ‘she saids.’ Even using paragraph breaks in a dialogue helps you avoid the ‘saids.’ Though we were warned away from using too many epithets. No one wants to hear about the ‘reddening blonde’ for pages and pages.

8.   Use arguments to create tension. One piece of advice we talked related to this one is that each character should have a goal in a conversation and should pursue that goal. If they’re not pursuing their objective, the character and plot are not developing and the scene should be cut.



9.   Think about how a character sounds. A non-native speaker might have a small bit of an accent or misuse a grammatical rule. As long as it’s legible and accurate (don’t perpetuate any false stereotypes!), it can help add depth to the character. Another part of this is making sure your own speech quirks don’t end up in every character of your novel. The characters should all sound different!

10.   Characters don’t have to answer each other. Sometimes, it’s best to let the reader figure out what should have been said or what was left out. Sometimes a question needs to be asked but not answered.


We did a short prompt to practice what we were learning. It was fun and I encourage any of you who want to try it to link back here so I can read it!

Write two quick character sketches (age, occupation, gender, general personality and emotional state). Write a few lines of dialogue with no tags and no narration. See if a reader can guess the character sketch from your writing.

That’s all I’ve got this time around. Let me know if you have any additional tips.

Until next time, write on.

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2 Responses to “Library Writers Group: Dialogue”

  1. enetteventer October 5, 2015 at 10:51 AM #

    I actually like to use internal dialog but it has to be done right. So instead of writing “I was scared of the monster”, I’ll write something like “I took a step back. How had it gotten here? What had happened to the guards at the door?”
    What I’m trying to say is that I like using internal monologue but I generally use it to either show more about my character or pose questions. Plus it has to be mixed with action.


    • Sam October 5, 2015 at 3:20 PM #

      Yes, very true! Using internal dialogue as a way to narrate is boring, but mixing it with actions and questions is a great way to mix it up. I tend to avoid internal dialogue because of my point of view choice. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

      Liked by 1 person

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