Friday, June 01, 2012

He Said, She Said

Let's talk dialogue. Editors love dialogue. It provides the "white space" they like in books. Readers like dialogue. It moves the story along at a faster pace. You, the author, need to master writing dialogue. Let’s try and make it easy for you with two important factors.

First - TAGS

He said, she said, they all said, are dialogue tags.

Many writers wax poetic with; he replied angrily, she screamed out the words, they hissed their answer as one. After you yank your finger out of your throat consider why these three examples are bad.

He replied angrily.
"Replied" is fine, if you must have a tag, but "angrily" is overkill. Your dialogue must show, not tell, the character’s anger. "Add actions to emphasize instead of adverbs" is a good rule to tape to your monitor.

Once in awhile it may be necessary to add an adverb. Hester Kaplan wrote in a prize winning short story:
“Cold as hell in New York," she said hoarsely, as though clots of snow were lodged in her throat.
In this case “hoarsely” is important to the reader or they would be confused over a person choking on clots of snow.

She screamed out the words.
Over the top. If your character has to scream, then so be it, but it’s unnecessary to add “out the words”. Because what the hell else is she going to scream – sausages? Again, your verbs in the dialogue should be strong enough to show, not tell, the reader the character is screaming. If your lady is screaming, the chick is full of rage. Show it with something like this: She fisted her shaking hands, failing to hold them stiff at her side. Purple blotches swelled across her face as she spit out the cruel words.

They hissed their answer.
Snakes hiss, people generally don’t. Write your dialogue to show their anger or do it with an action.

Every sentence of dialogue by a different character doesn’t need a tag line. If you have two people talking the occasional “said” is sufficient. But if you use an action after the line of dialogue then drop the “said”.

“Your perfume is very unusual.” He sniffed at her neck.
“Thank you. It’s my favorite.”
“It reminds me of something, but I can’t quite name it.”
He snapped his fingers. “Exactly.”

Nary a he or she said added and you know who is talking.

A few more tag will be required when you have a group in conversation. It will also be necessary to add the character’s name.

“Your perfume is very unusual.” Max sniffed at her neck.
“Thank you. It’s my favorite.” Eva smiled at what she hoped was a compliment.
“It reminds me of something, but I can’t quite name it.”
“Rosemary?” asked Ron.
Max snapped his fingers. “Exactly.”

Second - VOICE

This one is simple. Every character in your story has a different voice. The way they say things are exclusive to them due to their age, education, occupation, and all the other facets that make them be who they are. Be true to that character and write the dialogue as if they were really speaking it. Make it easy on yourself and envision the character, then say their dialogue out loud. You will automatically use the phrases unique to them.

Now that you have the idea, go though your manuscript in hard copy. Read the dialogue aloud or, better yet, have a friend read it. Then ask yourself these questions;

• Does it seem stilted, unnatural?
• Is that character’s dialogue true to them or do they all sound alike?
• Have you over dramatized the tag lines?
• Is the dialogue too long?
• Boring?
• Important enough to move your story along?

It only takes a short time to do the above and make your manuscript more attractive to an editor and reader.

Have a wonderful weekend. I'll be back Monday with debut author Sharon Ledwith. Until then...

Happy Writing!

Sloane Taylor


  1. Hey, Sloane...tag, you're it! Great post! Tweeted and shared this sage advice! Looking forward to Monday's post! Woot!

    1. Thank you, Sharon!!! Monday's is a humdinger.:)

  2. Ah, we all need reminded of this one. I get very annoyed at some authors who use bizarre tags. Even the invisible said gets under my skin on occasion.

    1. Isn't it the truth, Cordelia? Authors come up with the weirdest things in the name of literacy.

  3. I had a bit of dialogue that I wanted to go short and fast but all the he says/she said kept getting in the way. Still I thought it needed a little guidance to show the emotion behind what they were saying, so, after writing it five times, I ended up with this:

    "You want me to quit?" he burst out. "Okay, you've got it. I'm through!"
    "Oh, sure."
    "I mean it," he snapped.
    "Fine!" she threw at him
    "Right!" he shot back.
    "Y-you're serious?"
    "Damn right!"

    1. Hi Toni, I agree this has to be short and fast to feel the punch. Any physical action would have slowed the pace. You did good. I like it. I want to read the book this is or will be in.:)

  4. Great post! I have a soft spot for dialogue - well, good dialogue - and I think we all need to take this advice to heart.

    1. Hi Ana, Glad you liked the post. Thank you for stopping in and commenting.

  5. Brilliant post! It's not something I really thought of causing trouble, at least not with my writing, but it has me pausing to consider and go back over what I have!
    Thank you for posting this!

    1. Hi Casey, You're welcome. Edit, edit, edit is my mantra so I understand your need to go back over to find a tiny flaw.:)

  6. Anonymous9:06 PM

    Sloane this is something I'm still learning. Hard to know when or when not to use the dialogue tags. This article gave some great examples I think will help.


    C.K. Garner

    1. Glad to offer some insight, C.K. Thanks for coming by and posting. I appreciate it.