Episode 96: Say it Again


On May 23, 2020, Kasie and Rex took on the topic of dialogue. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Say it with Dialogue


  • Why is dialogue so hard?
  • What are the best uses of dialogue?
  • What should you absolutely not do with dialogue?
  • How to do a good job with dialogue?
cheerful young women screaming into loudspeaker
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Segment 1

Dialogue is “speech appropriate for the story” according to this blog and it’s hard because you’re trying to capture what real humans sound like thwne conversing except it should be mostly subtext, fulfill a specific purpose, and not bore us to death.

Segment 2

There are three basic (and universally agreed-upon) uses of dialogue:

  • Move the plot forward
  • Demonstrate characters’ details and their relationships with one another
  • Deliver relevant exposition

This blog suggests dialogue can also:

  • Break up passages of narration
  • Elicit reader emotion

Revealing characters through dialogue (this link):

  • Impatience — interrupts
  • Angry — staccato
  • Relaxed — slow, steady

Create tension in the story (this link):

  • Power dynamics (yes, sir!)
  • Indicate social demographics (not cheesy dialect, but the vocabulary of their class)
  • Illustrate deception (tell lies, everyone does it)
  • Sarcasm or innuendo (write with facetiousness)
  • Clues to the hidden agendas (character says he’s never been to some bar but it turns out he worked there)

Segment 3

What are the “don’ts” for dialogue?

Like any other element of writing, there are things that people just do very poorly. This blog gives some examples of poor dialogue. Can you think of any? 

Conceptually, the don’ts are:

  • Repetition
  • Interrogations — a direct question and answer
  • Robot-sounding stilted words and phrases
  • Preaching, monologuing
  • Exposition dumps “you know, Bob,” — characters sharing information they already know for the reader’s sake
  • Ridiculous tags: he blurted out, she enthused
  • Overuse of adverbs: excitedly, worriedly, sadly
  • Boring or procedural talk — even if you think it’s building character, if it’s boring, get it out of there
  • Vocabulary that doesn’t fit the era: like “my bad” and “okay”
  • Political correctness — a novel is not the place to be gentle with how people talk or what they say

Segment 4

How to do this? That’s the trick, right? NY Book Editors give some authoritative advice:

Some more do’s and don’ts from this blog:

  • Do use quotation marks, start a new paragraph each time a new character speaks, differentiate between characters’ voices, use “he said” and “she said” as tags, keep it concise, vary the length, have fun with conversations!
  • Don’t use character names if only two people are speaking, use pleasantries like, “How’s your day?” make characters tell each other things they already know, write in all completely grammatically correct sentences, let characters only talk without narrative action to show how they feel about what they’re saying.

This blog suggests:

  • Learn from some great examples 
  • Let threats to safety, the exposure of secrets, and other tension be said
  • What the character quotes — the Bible, authors, TV shows, all these show character 

This blog has 8 tips:

  • Move the story forward
  • Show characters’ thoughts or feelings
  • Make it natural
  • But not too natural (real dialogue is boring)
  • Get the punctuation right
  • Attribute only when necessary
  • Avoid attributions that tell you how the character spoke (shouted, sobbed, etc)
  • Don’t make dialogue do the work of narration — describing scenery for example

Same blogger, different list:

Delete the “laugh track” — don’t tell us when to be amused.

Avoid the pre-dialogue attribution

Use a dash for a short pause between the dialogue words, ellipses (…) for a longer pause

Want to learn more about Short Story Basics? Click here to get the class.

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