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How to Write Dialogue

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Amerision, Aug 22, 2008.

  1. Amerision

    Amerision Galactic Sheep Emperor DLP Supporter

    Apr 1, 2006
    The Gardens in the Desert Sand
    More and more I'm seeing prominent (and not so prominent) authors constantly butchering their dialogue. I'm guilty of some mistakes myself, so I found this excellent article on writing dialogue.


    It addresses so many faults I see in fanfiction today, and specifies the reasoning and rules behind each point it makes. An excerpt:

    In other words, if the words you are putting after your speech do not directly describe the actual talking (he said, he questioned, he interjected, etc.) you MUST capitalize the first letter!


    "Well that's quite a girl you have there," he smiled.


    "Well, that's quite a girl you have there." He smiled.

    This is an easy fix that can drastically improve the presentation and professionalism of a story. This error allows another error to occur: smiling words, chuckling replies, and glaring retorts:


    "It's no business of yours what I do with my female self," he glared.


    Because Harry, for all his magical ability, cannot glare words. Therefore:


    "It's no business of yours what I do with my female self." He glared.

    It's the same problem as the first - people are using non-speech related action phrases (beats) as tag phrases.

    Another important excerpt:

    So don't be afraid to use said more than a few times in your chapters. Most readers just skip through it automatically, and unless you're using it every time, nobody will think you're being repetitive.

    It's easier to stand out as a rookie writer by pulling out the thesaurus for a new speech tag for every line. If it's bugging you use a beat instead.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2008
  2. Rahkesh Asmodaeus

    Rahkesh Asmodaeus THUNDAH Bawd Admin DLP Supporter

    Apr 3, 2005
    ... this is awesome. Stickied.
  3. Iztiak

    Iztiak Prisoner DLP Supporter

    Dec 4, 2006
    This is really appreciated Amer, thanks for posting it.

    I'm not terribly good at writing dialogue, so this will help quite a bit. :)
  4. artenry

    artenry Guest

    Nicely done.
    Hopefully everyone can glean something useful from this.
  5. Kensington

    Kensington Denarii Host DLP Supporter

    Mar 11, 2008
    West Coast
    Seriously thanks for posting this.

    Already I'm touching up dialogue in my writing to conform to these standards.
  6. Militis

    Militis Supreme Mugwump

    Jun 24, 2008
    Many thanks! I'll be going back through my story when I get the time (and after I read the whole article) to fix the mistakes I know I've made.
  7. The Mysterious Nobody

    The Mysterious Nobody Auror

    Aug 7, 2007
    Many thanks. I've been looking for something like this for the past few weeks.
  8. Dark Syaoran

    Dark Syaoran No. 4 Admin

    Jun 4, 2005
    The stuff after the dialogue has never really bothered me. The 'he said' stuff. I could really care less if it's capitalized or not. I'm not that big of a grammar whore.

    What annoys me is when the talking portion sounds nothing like how a person speaks. People don't speak with perfect grammar. They use slang, they pause whenever they feel like it, and they even sometimes make words up.

    Whenever I write dialogue, I just think of how I would say it in real life. Then I think of how someone else I know in real life would say it. I continue in that vain for a bit, until I've fleshed it out into what I feel it should be.
  9. Heather_Sinclair

    Heather_Sinclair Chief Warlock

    Jan 19, 2008
    The Eighth Circle of Hell

    That's exactly how I do my dialog, DS. Also, keep in mind that everyone does not speak exactly the same. Some people are better educated while others are worse so write accordingly. This is why fleshing your characters out is very important.

    Where is he/she from? Unless your setting is a small village where everyone grew up, lived, and eventually will die, they won't speak the same. They'll use slang differently. They'll speak quick or slow. They'll sound urban, suburban, country, etc.

    Has your hero's front teeth been knocked out in a fight to the death? If so then he's not going to be pronouncing those "t's" quite as well.
  10. Nuhuh

    Nuhuh Dastardly Shadow Admin Retired Staff

    Nov 12, 2006
    The other side of the first point as far as capitalization goes is that tags are not to be capitalized. When I first started writing out I used to put a period and then capitalize the "H" in "he said," for example.

    I, however, do have a major problem with not capitalizing beats. That is more for the reason of not being careful when writing in flow than not knowing the distinction between them.

    The last point is somewhat new for me. I think it is really dependent on what is acceptable now but that is what style guides are for. At some points I have been berated for using "s/he said" as too dull, yet I recognize how much chaff is created in writing when you use too many alternates for "said."

    Following examples from some notable authors, I at times don't give a tag or a beat and try to show expression through the content of the dialogue, and indicate who is speaking by paragraph breaks. The latter is easy to do once you have used a tag or beat in the earlier dialogue to establish the rhythm of conversation between two people. Anymore than two and it gets confusing.

    Appreciate the post, Amer, guilty as charged on all counts, I think. Will watch out for it.
  11. Tehan

    Tehan Avatar of Khorne DLP Supporter

    May 22, 2007
    I do it, and I'm going to continue doing it, because it feels more natural to me. It might be, strictly speaking, slightly wrong, but I'll take slightly wrong over the amazingly clumsy-feeling yet correct alternative.
  12. MofoNofo

    MofoNofo Seventh Year

    May 28, 2008
    I would use neither.

    "It's no business of yours what I do with my female self," he glared. Looks just as weird as:

    "It's no business of yours what I do with my female self." He glared.

    I'd have probably edited that line to become:

    "It's no business of yours what I do with my female self," Harry snarled as he glared at them.

    Now, I'm sick of hearing my mind say the word "glared" over and over, so, ciao.
  13. The Sour Kraut

    The Sour Kraut Seventh Year

    Jan 26, 2008
    Where the beer flows
    True, but I'd prefer the author making a comment about that instead of replacing every 't' for a 'th' or 's'.

    When talking about a character's way of speaking, one has to differ between his choice of words, slang etc. and his pronunciation and accent.
    The first one should obviously be included in the dialogue - someone with no education who grew up in the country or a foreigner will have a simpler way of talking and a smaller vocabulary while a professor or politician might speak in a very polished way with longer sentences.

    As for the accent, that's a matter of personal taste and skill. Writing down someone's accent like JKR did with Hagrid takes skill and a good knowledge of said accent. Doing this with the main characters or with every character might hamper the overall 'feeling' and the reader can't immerse in the story because it's just too hard to read.

    For both slang and accent goes: Don't overdo it! There are authors who use it much, but they are the exception to the rule and usually rather skilled at what they are doing.

    To the OP: Some people tell you to never use "he said", some tell you it's better than using a synonym.
    A "he said"-tag after every sentence is annoying, as is reading a story that feels as if the author used a thesaurus for every other word. But I think a good author has his gut feeling for that and knows how to write it to be a good read.

    As for the capitalisation: I can only speak out of my own experience but I know some publishers. Believe me, perfect grammar is the least they care about, that's what they have good editors for.
    Of course, a manuscript with overall bad grammar doesn't get read in the first place, but it has not to be perfect.
    Good plot, original writing style and natural dialogues are always more important than perfect grammar.
  14. della_couer

    della_couer Second Year

    Jun 3, 2008
    Thanks for posting, the sticky rules of dialog have always been a problem for me. Very nice find. :D
  15. DreamRed

    DreamRed Seventh Year

    Apr 14, 2006
    Thanks for the post. Most of that stuff I tend to catch when I edit, but rereads never hurt. I found the finishing paragraphs on the 'Harry said' vs 'said Harry' and the effect that has on projecting a childrens book/adult book feel interesting as well.
  16. SerDel

    SerDel Third Year

    Jan 18, 2008
    It only makes me more and more sad, as it is apparent that i would never acquire language skills to write something good in english, as it isn't my native language.

    Great article though.
  17. aka_thenewguy

    aka_thenewguy Squib

    Dec 12, 2008
    New Zealand
    I was just reading a fic about ten minutes ago but gave up because of the terrible dialogue. Mostly that every damn time a character started talking, even where there the reader was told they were completely alone, their sentence started with "Well <insert character name here>" Seriously You have done with world a service by posting this thread and I bow to your genius and pray to whoever might be listening that more authors with read something like this before writing.
  18. Khazad-Dumb

    Khazad-Dumb Loves the Gay Porn DLP Supporter

    Feb 28, 2008
    Clutch City, USA
    Less necroing and fellatio plzkthxbai.
  19. Xantam

    Xantam Denarii Host

    Jan 8, 2006
    It is a sticky. Thus his post was allowable. The fellatio comment is still relevant, though.
  20. Poorfox

    Poorfox First Year

    Jul 11, 2009
    Ahhh, I remember making these mistakes when I started writing. Looking back, it was incredibly cringeworthy. Hopefully this will improve the standard of a few fics - who know?

    The comment on the ages of your audience surprised me, but it does make sense, come to think of it. Interesting stuff.