More on Writing Dialogue

This is Part 2 of the CWN series on writing dialogue. (Click here for Part 1). For creative writing help and the chance to take a free fiction writing course, browse the links at the bottom of this page.

How to Write Dialogue - Part 2

Do you hear voices in your head? If so, I'd recommend against mentioning that at a job interview or on a first date. If not, read How to Write Dialogue That Works and work on developing a sense of your characters' voices and what they should say in your story. After that, it's a matter of putting it down on the page.

How do you show who's saying what? Often, fiction writers start a new paragraph each time the speaker changes. You can also include dialogue tags such as "he said," "she murmured," "I asked." But you can skip the dialogue tags when it's obvious who's talking without them.

Take some fiction books off your shelf and looking at the dialogue format. There are no unbreakable rules for writing dialogue (it's called "creative writing" for a reason), but there are some common practices, and I'd suggest following them unless you have a good reason not to. Why distract your readers unnecessarily?


Dos and don'ts for writing dialogue


  • Pay attention to each character's different speaking style.

  • Edit dialogue to trim off most of the fat. A lot of what people say is just blah-blah-blah, but you don't want to bore your reader.

  • Show how the character speaks instead of telling it. If the character speaks angrily, you can make this come through in her words -- it's therefore often not necessary to add an expressive dialogue tag such as, "she said angrily." The same if a character is shouting or crying, etc. Keep the reader's attention on your character's speech, not your explanation of it.


  • Don't get too colorful with the dialogue tags. "Hello," she shouted; "Hi there," he cried; "How are you?" she queried," "Fine thanks," he shrilled"... too much of this stuff gets distracting fast. Put your thesaurus away. The basic dialogue verbs "say," "tell," and "ask," have the advantage of fading in the background, letting the reader focus on what your character is saying.

  • Don't feel obligated to add a tag to every bit of dialogue. If it's clear who's saying what without them, then you can leave them off.

  • Don't let your reader get disoriented. Use dialogue tags when they're needed to prevent confusion. There's nothing worse than stopping in the middle of an exciting scene to retrace the dialogue and try to figure out who's saying what ("Okay, it's the killer speaking here, so this must be the detective who's answering him, not his sister...")

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