I’m digging into the hard work of a first draft this summer, and one of the things I love about writing is writing dialogue. Talk, talk, talk – I’m all about the talking, as anyone who’s met me knows. (In my defense, I’m often told that while I am chatty, to say the least, I’m never boring. 🙂 )
Today when I read the Children’s Writer eNews newsletter from the Institute of Children’s Literature, it had some handy advice about writing dialogue. Even if you’ve heard it before, it bears repeating. Thanks to Jan Fields and the ICL folks for the helpful hints!
___Check that all spoken dialogue is enclosed in quotation marks and that punctuation occurs inside the quotation marks. [Enclosing all punctuation within the quotes is standard style of most American publishers.]
___Only spoken words go in quotes, thoughts do not need to be set off with quotation marks. Some writers use italics to set off thoughts.
___The best verb for tagging your dialogue is said. Use other verbs only when they truly add to the moment. And do not use verbs as speech tags unless they actually describe speech — sneered or snorted and the like are not speech tags.
___Keep adverbs to a minimum in dialogue. Instead of using he said quickly try writing the actual dialogue using short clipped sentences so we can near that he was speaking quickly.
___Only one speaker per paragraph. When you change speakers, change paragraphs, even if both people only say short things.
___Be certain that each of your characters has a distinctive voice. Try deleting all your speech tags and have a friend read the dialogue. Then ask your friend if she can identify the speakers without the tags. Your voice should be so clear that someone could tell whether it is a kid speaking, or a mom, or a teacher without identifying tags.
___Use enough speech tags to keep the reader clearly informed of who is talking, but don’t feel that you have to tag every single sentence of speech. Too few tags becomes confusing. Too many becomes annoying.
___In common conversations, much of the talk is pointless. Be certain this does not occur. Every bit of dialogue should expand characterization, move plot along and make the story a more enjoyable read.” – Jan Fields, Editor, Children’s Writer eNews, July 30, 2015.
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