Easy Dialogue Ain’t Easy, Part 1: An Introduction to Basic Dialogue

Does an author’s dialogue look like it’s easy to write? It does? Good, because that means the author worked hard on it. In this series, I’ll share some basics of writing good dialogue.

Most professional writers are familiar with the expression “Show, Don’t Tell.” This comes from the great Russian writer, Anton Chekhov, who said: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” 

One of the ways we “show, don’t tell” is through dialogue.

The Purpose of Dialogue

  • It should sound like real conversation.
  • It should reveal something about the character.
  • It should have conflict, either major or minor.
  • It should be interesting.

Poorly Written Dialogue

“Where are you going?” Bill inquired.

“To the grocery store,” Alice answered.

        “Why are you going again?’ Bill remarked.

       “I forgot to buy eggs.”

       “Will this be the last time you’ll go today?” Bill sat on the couch and flicked on the television with his remote control.

       “Yes,” Alice said with conviction in her voice.

       “Well, goodbye then.”

       “Goodbye.” Alice walked out of the den.

Hey, man. That was boring! Now where’s my milk?

In future posts, I’ll critique and revise my “ho-hum” example. For now, let’s look at some basic principles.

The Basics

  • Direct dialogue is when a character speaks. This goes inside double-quotation marks.
  • Punctuation that ends a character’s dialogue goes inside the closing quotation marks.
  • Each time a character, a new paragraph begins.
  • When the speaker is identified, such as “Bill inquired” or “Alice answered,” these identifiers are called taglines or speaker attributions.
  • When a character performs a physical action(s) in addition to dialogue, these action(s) are called beats.

I committed several dialogue mistakes in my example. Can you spot them? We’ll discuss them in more detail tomorrow.



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