Dialog can do many things for your story, including:
- Show readers who your character is
- Show readers who Your character is through another, ie, gossip
- Moves your story forward
- Help with backstory
Make sure dialog moves the story along
Don’t write an entire paragraph of dialog about how Bane kicks batman’s ass any day of the week. Unless you have a scene at comic con or your story is about bats, or unless it represents the theme to your story, ie, your character is a superhero of some sort. If the dialog has nothing to do with the plot, don’t add it, unless it’s brief, which can be your oppurtunity to weave in colourful character description.
Dillon and Mayer lined up for the 4:09 bus to Thornbury. Dillon shifted his backpack higher onto his shoulders and said, “Watched The Dark Night Rise last night, did you?”
Mayer shook her head. “No, had too much homework to do.”
When the bus arrived, Dillon reached into his pocket and pressed a ten dollar note into the bus driver’s hand.
“It was so awesome,” he continued as they took their seats…
In the above example we fill in the time waiting for the bus with small talk, while also giving the reader a snippet of Dillon’s interest.
On that note, sometimes it’s best to leave out the entire waiting for the bus scene.
The bus to Thornbury was three minutes late. As they found their way to their seats, Dillon filled Mayer in on his batman marathon from the night before….
This depends on the pacing and how important the bus journey is for your plot.
HOW TO FORMAT DIALOG
(A) New paragraph for each speaker. Always press the enter key before writing dialog for each character. Characters need their space, and your writing looks much smoother and less congested.
“Jane, have you finished the proposal yet?”
Jane nodded, “yes, and with twenty minutes to spare.”
(B) Always enclose dialog with speach marks
“I want you at the office by 0800,” said Tom.
In America 🇺🇸 it is custom to use double quotation.
In the UK 🇬🇧 it is single quotation.
As an Aussie 🇦🇺 I write most of my novels set somewhere in the US, so I use double quotation marks, but if I were to dump a character in the melting centre of Western Australia, I would use single quotation.
‘A dingo took my baby.’
However, it may be fine to use single or double according to taste.
(C) Place punctuation inside of speach marks.
(D) Playing with lengthy dialog is an art. Sometimes a character has a mouthful of things to say and you need to know how to break it apart. For instance, let’s say your character is giving a speach to a room full of school students. The dialog here will be a long one, so here is an example of what to do.
“You must begin dialog with quotation marks,” she said, “and must close the marks when the character has stopped speaking.”
The teacher pointed a finger to the back row where Emily Macon was whispering to the girl next to her. The teacher cleared her throat and carried on around the character.
“When writing long dialog, you should break it up with action. Not a lot, just a little. This helps set the scene. Too much dialog in one go can feel like a drag, so breaking it up with some action gives your reader a better feel of what is going on.
“Notice that there are no quotation marks at the end of the previous paragraph, but they do appear at the beginning of this one. It’s only when you reach the end of the speach that you close the quotation marks.”
RECIPE FOR GREAT DIALOG
Good dialog conveys personality traits, important story points, backstory, relationship cues. It should be interesting and to the point. Dialog should make a reader want to hang on to each word.
Here are the basic rules for dialog.
Keep individual speech patterns consistent.
Don’t have a character say:
Yo, Mark. What ya’ hiding under that towel?”
…in one chapter, and then in another chapter:
Mark, dear, may I have a glass of sparkling water?”
Trust me, readers will notice.
Each character’s way of speech should differentiate from one another.When readers are able to tell the difference between two characters, this ensures a smoother read, and gives each character a 3D personality.
For example, Jason might say:
Arlene might say:
And Yasmin might say:
”How are you?”
But when she’s having a bad day she might say:
“Yo, Bob, how you doin?”
Because it’s just not Yasmine’s personality.
Watch your speech tags.
Said, asked, demanded, warned, etc. Speech tags that are anything other than said take the readers out of the dialog. It makes them stumble, and when your reader stumbles they may feel as if they’re working to read your book.
Stick to the basics. Said and asked.
But how do we write a conversation without saying he said, she said too many time?
Take a look at how bad the following example looks.
“Do you want tea?”Jane asked.
“No thanks,”Tom said.
“But I’ve already poured you a cup,” said Jane.
“Alright, if you insist,” said Tom.”
Here is how we can fix it.
“Do you want tea?” Jane asked.
“No thanks,” Tom said.
Jane smiled, “but I’ve already poured you a cup.”
Tom felt obligated to take the tea. “Alright, if you insist.”He could never resist the pearly whites and dimples of Jane’s smile.
How can we add something other than said?
Tom guessed the answer was three, but Jane shook her head.
“You always get it wrong. The answer is seven.”
The above example looks much better than:
“Three,” Tom guessed.
Here’s another example:
Tom insisted they all go out for ice-cream.
Looks better than:
“Let’s go out for ice-cream,” Tom insisted.