Dialogue, Trialogue, and Quadralogue

Long post warning!

Dialogue – one of the most important parts of the actual writing part. It’s also one of the hardest parts of writing (though I’m tempted to say that everything in writing is one of the hardest parts of writing).

Dialogue can easily become chunky and stiff. For instance, if I take a scene from my current WIP The Golden Ruler, and change it to be chunky and new-writer-reeking, it sounds like this:

“Alissa, do you have any spare blankets?” Katie said.

“Yes. What do you need?” Alissa said. 

“Whatever you have,” Mark said. 


That’s obviously hard to read. So how is this avoided, outside of writing a lot and reading a lot? By following a couple of guidelines.

(Yes, guidelines, not rules. Rules don’t usually work.)

Image result for more like guidelines

The name of the speaker should be easy to identify quickly.

Don’t wait for a paragraph of dialogue to identify the speaker. If the speaker isn’t identified before the dialogue, break up the dialogue a few words in to include the tag. For instance:

“Alissa,” Katie said. “Do you have any blankets?’

“Yes,” Alissa said. “What do you need?”

“Whatever you have,” Mark said. 


A lot easier to read (well, when you know the characters), but still chunky. Another thing is changing up the dialogue tags – but be cautious! Said is not as evil as you think it is!

As with all writing, don’t overuse one word

These dialogue tags should still be simple words, and should add something to the sentence without stopping the flow.  For instance (example long-ified to include more variety)

“Alissa,” Katie called. “Do you have any spare blankets?”

“Yes,” Alissa replied. “What do you need?”

“Whatever you have,” Mark answered.

“What do you them for?” Alissa asked. 

“There was a disaster in my room,” Mark explained. 


Still boring, but much easier to read. Now, time to interject character.

Dialogue should sound like something that an actual person would say. 

Don’t be afraid to use slang, contractions, less than flowery language… I like to mouth dialogue I’m having problems with under my breath to make sure it sounds right. Dialogue is also a great way to display any attitude, sarcasm, etc, that a character might have.

“Lis,” Katie called. “Do you have any spare blankets?” 

“Yes I do,” Alissa replied. “What do you need?”

“Whatever you have,” Mark answered.

“Useful response,” Alissa noted. “What do you need them for?”

“There was a tornado in my room,” Mark joked. 

“How horrible,” Alissa replied. 


See? A lot more interesting. Now, the next thing the dialogue needs is a physical-ness. What are the characters doing while talking?

(This is notably the part I struggle with most)

Dialogue can’t be just words floating in an empty void. Add action.

Put this together, and the example (when lengthened again) turns into:

“Lis,” Katie called, briefly looking over her shoulder. “Do you have any spare blankets?”

“Yes I do,” Alissa replied, plopping her book down and swinging herself off the bed. “What do you need?”

“Whatever you have,” Mark answered.

“Useful response,” Alissa noted. “What do you need them for?”

“There was a tornado in my room,” Mark joked.

“How horrible,” Alissa replied.

 Mark was about to respond, but the blanket Katie was retrieving fell on him.

“Sorry,” Katie squeaked.  She picked up the offender – a big blanket in a shade of green that should have never been invented.

“Wow, that’s…” Mark started.

“Ugly?” Katie finished, tossing the blanket onto the bed.

“It looks like the color of puke,” Alissa commented, walking up next to Mark with a giant, fluffy, purple blanket in her arms. “Why’d you even buy that?”

“I dunno,” Katie replied, taking down a pile of camo sheets. “I had some weird tastes growing up.”

“You still have weird tastes,” Alissa added with a laugh.

“Anyway,” Katie continued, holding up the pile of sheets. “Will this work?”

“Yes, thank you,” Mark replied, reaching to take the sheets from Katie.

A tip that isn’t in this particular passage but that I use a lot is

Add a short sentence of the speaker doing an action before speaking to eliminate the dialogue tag

This, as all things, should be used in moderation, but in turn helps keep the dialogue tags in moderation. For instance:

Alissa shrugged. “No idea. I don’t science.”

Or, in a larger context:

“No,” Mark replied. “Go to bed.”

Bob frowned. “You’re no fun.”

“Go to bed!” Henry called from inside Mark’s door.

“On the other hand,” Mark admitted. “Henry’s phone would look really nice in… whatever that is.”

“Go to bed.” Henry restated.

“Tomorrow, then?” Bob joked. Mark cracked a smile.

“You mean today?” Henry questioned. “You know it is three AM right?”

Remember: these are just a few things, and by no means are any of these rules. A lot of good writing comes from practice, so if you really want to become a better writer, practice is the only way to do it. 

Note: All passages from The Golden Ruler are still being edited, so when TGR is finally published, there might be changes. Just as a warning. 

Picture from Pirates of the Caribbean, found on a page called “Quickmeme” while doing a Google search. 

Follow me on Twitter at @shadoweyeblog

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