by Janice Seagraves
Hi, I’m Janice Seagraves. Today, we’re talking about writing dialogue.
I understand how frustrating it can be to revise one’s own work. I’ve been there myself and I’m doing it now.
For dialogue tags, I turn to Shrunk and White. Place he/she or name first: it’s he said or Mike said.
If you’re writing a question the same rule applies: he asked, Mike asked.
Never substitute said for asked.
If you have a question mark and it’s clear who doing the asking, then you don’t really need the ‘asked.’ In fact, if it’s clear who is speaking, then you don’t need a dialogue tag at all.
Example: Lynda turned on the light and looked at Mike. “What’s this about?”
And be careful that you don’t over edit your manuscript, which can lead to dropped words.
You’ll find “Editor do not use word lists” However, if you’re overzealous with deleting these words you can also have an issue with dropped words. I’m not saying to ignore these lists, but maybe take them with a grain of salt. Editors only have issues with these words if you overuse them.
Its clarity—that’s key to a good strong manuscript and a lot of this has to do with how it sounds.
Our ears catch a lot more than our eyes do.
Here’s a helpful hint: Read your manuscript out loud or better yet have someone read your manuscript to you.
Something else to try is one of those text to speak programs. A friend suggested one and I found it useful.
Where can you find inspiration for realistic dialogue?
Here’s examples I wrote myself by keeping my eyes and ears open. Mostly I observed mothers and their children just a few days before the holidays and the mothers seemed tired and the children antsy.
- At a store in town, a little girl about seven, stood in the front window display with her back to the glass. The front door was opened by a little boy no older than five. “Cindy, Cindy?” He looked around and went back inside.
When I entered the store, the little girl peeked at me from between the manikins with an impish grin.
“There you are,” said the little boy. The two children giggled and chase each other around the clothing racks.
“Ma’am,” called out the eighteen-year-old clerk. “Can you please tell your children that this isn’t a playground?” She sighed and shook her head, as if she’d been saying this all day.
A dark headed woman looked up long enough to say something in a sharp tone in Spanish to the two children, before returning to the clothes she was looking through. The kids skidded to a stop, their shoes squeaking, and ducked their heads.
- At Wal-Mart, a woman reached for her baby that her older child held. “Here, give him to me. There’s people trying to walk here.” The woman frowned, and her voiced had a hard edge.
- At Panda Express, a tired woman leaned toward the clerk over the glass display. “I want the chow mien with honey walnut shrimp, and for my son I want…”
Her son, who looked eight, stood behind her. He poked her in the butt with his spider man doll and laughed.
As her face turned red, the woman turned and swatted at him. “Stop that. We’re in public.”
Now, if you prefer dialogue that pops, I suggest doing some research. Watch those old 1930 and 40’s films that had snappy dialogue. I suggest anything with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, and William Powell.
- Ball of Fire (1941)
- Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
- Libeled Lady (1936)
- Holiday (1938)
- Twentieth Century (1934)
- The Thin Man (1934)
- To Be or Not to Be (1942)
- The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943)
- The Philadelphia Story (1940)
- Topper (1937)
Thank you for dropping by. Please like and subscribe and I’ll do another vlog next week. 🙂
This is an excellent blog.Simple identifying tags like “he said” are popular now. I like the way you demonstrate how action sentences work with dialogue. I do that as well.
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I noticed that too. It’s because said is nearly invisible and the reader won’t even notice it, but if you use another tag like maybe hissed, they might stop and puzzle of the meaning.