This post from Kristen Lamb’s blog gives some good basic guidelines for using and punctuating dialogue. These principles can be surprisingly hard to master, so a good primer is always helpful. The one I see most often is the use of an action as if it were a dialogue tag. To add to Kristen’s list, I’d say, “Watch out for that darn Autocorrect in Word. If you have it turned on and you accidentally type a period instead of a comma after the dialogue, Autocorrect automatically capitalizes the next letter, so you end up with two punctuation gaffes, not one.
Today we are going to talk about dialogue. Everyone thinks they are great at it, and many would be wrong. Dialogue really is a lot tricker than it might seem.
Great dialogue is one of the most vital components of fiction. Dialogue is responsible for not only conveying the plot, but it also helps us understand the characters and get to know them, love them, hate them, whatever.
Dialogue is powerful for revealing character. This is as true in life as it is on the page. If people didn’t judge us based on how we speak, then business professionals wouldn’t bother with Toastmasters, speaking coaches or vocabulary builders.
I’d imagine few people who’d hire a brain surgeon who spoke like a rap musician and conversely, it would be tough to enjoy rap music made by an artist who spoke like the curator of an art museum.
Our word choices are…
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3 responses to “Are You Botching Your Dialogue?”
Pingback: Another Good Article on Dialogue | Just Can't Help Writing
There is absolutely nothing wrong with using action as dialog tags. It often gives economy and rhythm to the prose that ordinary tags lack. I think the author of that piece would choke if they re-read Hemingway and realized what a “green writer” he must have been.
If you are looking for a good overview of how to tag dialog well, I think this article is much, much better: http://www.scribophile.com/academy/he-said-she-said-dialog-tags-and-using-them-effectively
I agree, a really good article. But it actually doesn’t contradict anything in the other article or my point. It may be we’re talking past each other. The additions of actions illustrated copiously in this article are not what I meant by “using actions as dialogue tags.”
Here’s the example of an action used as a tag from the article, with its qualifier: “I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer. [For the record, ‘the man drank his beer’ isn’t technically a dialogue tag, but it’s Hemingway…]
I’m afraid I agree with the implied caveat in the Scribophile article: Hemingway can do some things that are risky for many of us if we want to appear in control of our texts. Okay, that’s pandering to an editor’s judgment, but it depends on whether your goal actually is to pander to an editor’s judgment in hopes of getting a serious reading. The convention is to avoid this kind of construction. It’s fine to defy conventions, but writers benefit from knowing that they take calculated risks when they do.
Thanks for the link to that article! I’ll link to it as well.