Dialogue Commandments

Dialogue should . . .

  1. Increase the pace. It should provide new information quickly.
  2. Create a sense of immediacy and reality. It should make readers feel as if they’re in the scene.
  3. Propel the story. It should increase conflict, add information, tell a lie, or expose a secret or challenging truth.
  4. Add conflict and tension.
  5. Condense backstory.
  6. Impart humor.
  7. Reveal a character’s core traits and perspective.

If your dialogue doesn’t accomplish these tasks, delete it. If it accomplishes only two of these tasks, revise it.

Dialogue should not . . .

  1. Tell characters what they already know. “As you know, Joe . . .” is an artificial approach to revealing information. If you wouldn’t say it to your friend in a real conversation, neither would your character to her friend.
  2. Be pointless chatter. Don’t try to add realism by injecting chitchat about the weather or other frivolous topics.
  3. Dump information. Don’t use dialogue to drop exposition on the reader.
  4. Use character’s names frequently. “What are you doing here, Lucy?” “Mary, I needed to pick up some bagels.” “Oh, Lucy, the bagels here are the best.” Delete all those superfluous names.
  5. Always convey exactly what each character is thinking. Instead, it should often merely hint at what each character means. Good dialogue circles around the truth and also conceals it.
  6. Give speeches that thinly disguise your own views. Don’t intrude on your character’s point of view. Only preachers and politicians, if anyone, should be giving speeches in your book.
  7. Contain adverb-laden tags. If a dialogue tag is needed for clarity, stick to “he said” and “she said.” Cut the “angrily,” “morosely,” and other adverbs. The dialogue itself should convey how it’s spoken.

Now go forth and write good dialogue.

Resource: Thanks, but This Isn’t for Us by Jessica Page Morrell

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