1-Every piece of dialogue in fiction needs a reason to exist. It either moves the plot forward or it gives us information about characters, the dynamics between them, or the backstory. Avoid fillers that are actually 40% of real dialogue (excessive greeting, small talk, hesitation unless necessary etc…) Avoid “infodumps” (yes, it’s a thing). These can be either in narration or in dialogue, but in general refer to an excessive amount of backstory that either breaks the rhythm of the narration or seem very unnatural coming out of the mouth of a character.
Example of dialogue infodump:
“How many times do I have to tell you, Kelly? Dad doesn’t want you out late on your own, even more so since the killer maniac is on the loose.”
Kelly snapped, “I don’t care about the maniac! I can take care of myself!”
Sandra rolled her eyes as she leaned back on the doorjamb. “Whatever. If he doesn’t kill you, Dad will when he finds out.”
2-Avoid overusing “he said” and “she said” and all their permutations (whispered, yelled, retorted etc…) You can make clear who’s speaking (most of the times) by mixing in a bit of narration which will help ground your dialogue into the setting and give more emotion to the story as well.
Bad dialogue example:
Jon said, “I hate you!”
Mary answered, “I love you too.”
Why is this bad? First of all if there are only two characters in the scene it’s superfluous to add “Mary answered” the change of line tells us that the character changed. Second, we read the words, but feel nothing.
Better dialogue example:
Jon stormed into the room: eyes wide, breathing ragged. He stopped right in front of Mary and said, almost to himself, “I freaking hate you, Mary!”
Mary’s eyes softened. She stepped toward him and smiled, staring right back at him. “I love you too, Jon.”
See what I mean?
Bad dialogue example:
Jon and Mary stared at each other. “I can’t be with you anymore.”
Who the heck said it? This kicks the reader out of the movie you were creating in his head and have him stare at your written words instead. Don’t do that!
4-Proper dialogue formatting. Direct speech is in quotes. I said, “direct speech is in quotes!” If the verb preceding the quotes means that the words were uttered (say, yell, whisper, mumble etc…) you need a comma before the quotes, otherwise you need a period. The first word inside the quotes is always capitalized.
Jon mumbled, “I had no idea.”
But you would write:
Jon laughed out loud. “No way!”
Remember that internal thoughts are italicized!
Who am I to give you advice?
I am the author of The Italian Saga (#TIS) A series of YA novels taking place in Italy. The first three installments of the novels are available as e-books, paperbacks and audiobooks.
Check out my books here, and remember to write a review <3