Sunday, 21 December 2014


Happy Winter Solstice - the light is coming
In a previous post I spoke about the importance of showing not telling so a reader can experience the story. I also mentioned that one way of doing that is through dialogue. There is an art to dialogue though and these are some of my thoughts on it. Baggy dialogue that doesn't move the story forward and bogs it down could mean the reader may well just switch off. What you want to achieve is dialogue that shines and draws the reader into the story. It is worth considering speech as another form of action.

When writing dialogue don't write it the way we speak it in real life. That would be so boring!  It shouldn't waffle. What dialogue can do is reveal information that is important. *WARNING* Not in great chunks - the old adage less is more applies here* It can be done through narrative as well of course. Be careful how you do it of course. It mustn't be obvious to the reader that that is what you are doing though. There are times when you need to trust your reader to work things out. Remember also that information can be gleaned by what is not being said as much as by what is. Now there is a contradiction for you to think about. Don't underestimate the importance or impact of silence either.

You can use dialogue to set the tone and to allow readers to experience a scene. Also dialogue can be used to reveal information about characters and their relationship. Think about distinct voices for your characters, consider vocab, peer groups etc. Use conflict and tension (including fear and barriers) in their dialogue while remembering that all characters will have an agenda regardless of how small their part may be in your novel.

I am often asked about 'said'. It is recommended that it is your default attribution. It becomes invisible the reader doesn't see it but it gives them enough information without them having to work hard and allowing them to focus on the other words.  'Said' disappears yet gives direction. Use other words such as 'whispered' and 'asked' sparingly and with reason ensuring it does what you need it to. The same with adverbs attached to speech tags. Ask the question could I show this better? If not keep it in. Again less is more at times.

On a personal note I don't tend to put internal dialogue or thoughts in quotation marks or italics. Again I find it distracting. I have been writing a lot of dialogue from the end of the Second World War and I have had to make sure that contemporary phrases don't slip in. If they did it would mean the whole narrative would lose credibility for the reader I believe. It just wouldn't feel real. Something to bear in mind when writing historical fiction or even fiction that is set a few years ago. Think about what might or might not be said. Make sure you do your research.

Try and practice writing dialogue. Take a couple of your characters out of your novel and put them in situations and write dialogue for them just to see how they would react, what would they say. One thing to avoid when writing dialogue is the 'talking heads' scenario. Watch people having conversations. They never just talk. People are always doing things at the same time. You need to convey this too to make it feel real and to break up blocks of dialogue.  When you have written it read it out loud so you can hear it. Does it sound real? Dialogue should be short and sharp unless there is a good reason for a character to be verbose.

There we go some thoughts on dialogue. I hope they are useful. Today is the winter solstice. The shortest day. What a relief we are heading towards spring again and the light and sunshine. It has been a tough time for many reasons and I need to thank a lot of people who have supported people. They know who they are.

This song is for no other reasons than it has some very happy memories connected to it and because I am looking to the future now.


  1. The best explanation I've ever read of why 'said' should be our go-to when writing dialogue. Warm hugs this season.

    1. Thank you Candy, glad you find it useful. Warm hugs back. It was so good to catch up with you back in November