Fictional Dialogue: We do not all speak like robots

People do not talk like robots (well maybe only one or two). I see a lot of this kind of thing in fictional dialogue and so I thought I would post about it again.

Getting dialogue right is an essential part of good fiction writing. People speak all kinds of nonsense — just listen to what you hear. We um, we ah, we repeat. If you wrote it this way it would never get to the point and in fictional writing you have to get to the point. In the same way the ooh, how are you, how do you like your tea etc. is also superfluous and can be implied, unless used only as a device. By this I mean how it’s said and actions performed as it’s said form the key focus. Guilt can be shown, for example, in how a character now slowly pours milk into their tea and won’t make eye contact with the person asking them a question . Draw the reader’s attention only to what is functional.

Don’t use too many attributions, i.e. he said, she said, just enough the reader can follow it. So use  the occasional reminder who is speaking with a ‘he said’  or an action ‘he did’. You can also use the name occasionally in the dialogue (but not too much, only human resource managers in my experience use your name every other line!). This will also sound robotic!

Stick to said and don’t get out the thesaurus for every word you can think of to use instead of said. You need to make this little word as invisible as possible to make the reader forget they are reading dialogue, and just focus on what’s said and how it’s said. SUBTEXT!

So use some action in dialogue for subtext. This action often tells the reader more than the words spoken. Actions speak louder than words!

Do not use adverbs after dialogue (or use them really sparingly) as showing does this better: adverbs are telling.

If you get it right your dialogue will be functional: it will move plot and reveal character. It will also give voice to your character by using phrases and quirks that deepen characterisation but don’t overdo this aspect either.

If your characters sound as if they’re robots and go on and on and take ages to get to the point you are wrong to think this is natural. It might reflect the way we could speak but in writing, words are precious. Don’t bore the reader. THINK FUNCTIONALLY.

Make it sound natural with clipped responses and yes and no and maybe answers but show their body language as they say it. This is a much more effective way of exposing the lie than saying ‘he lied’. Never say ‘he lied’. Context will show the reader this is a lie or might be a lie.

Allow the reader to think and work it out; they need to be active in the process of reading.

Don’t use telling tags saying why something is said, motivation can be implied or worked out.

Here endeth today’s lesson in writing fictional dialogue… and oh and please please look at books to see how it’s done.

Do not use a mixture of straight and curly, single and double speech marks. Indent for a new speaker and the reaction by the other speaker so it’s easy to follow.

Punctuate correctly! No it does not have a capital H in ‘he said’ when you have a question like “What time is it?” he said. 

Always use punctuation inside a closing speech mark! Do not write “He’ll be here” he said, use a comma after ‘here’.

If the action precedes the dialogue do not leave the said ‘hanging’ like this:

She looked at him, sucked in a deep breath and said,

“Go on then.”

It needs to all be on one line: She looked at him, sucked in a deep breath and said, “Go on then.”

Do not use semi colons before dialogue He said; “Can I come.” Use a comma.

Okay so NOW endeth the lesson.


Have a great Tuesday folks!robots


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