Guidelines for Dialogue

This isn’t an exact guide to writing dialogue, there are always going to be unique situations. But as a guide it is pretty good, I think.

  • Use words and language which your characters would actually use. Give a character his or her own favourite phrases. Their own unique self expression. Please don’t try to mimic a dialect like a Scottish accent in your written words. The words are spelled the same way whether or not they are spoken with an accent. Let your readers know the character is Scottish (or has an accent, speech impediment, etc.) another way.
  • Get rid of dialogue that doesn’t have a point or advance the story in some way. Reveal character, add to the action, set up foreshadowing, change the pace, something that makes the dialogue work for the story rather than just ramble on.
  • Most of the dialogue should be about the speaker’s thoughts, beliefs or problems. Two or more characters enter into dialogue to discuss something, a plan of action, an argument, a change of heart. Dialogue adds drama because it is more immediate and action based than a written description.
  • Write the dialogue as people actually speak. People interrupt each other, ignore each other or just don’t hear each other.
  • Stop the conversation at a good point, build drama and leave something to the reader’s imagination. An entire conversation isn’t necessary and would be kind of boring.
  • Use punctuation in your dialogue, this makes it easy to read and understand. Punctuation is always an important part of written communication. Indent for each new speaker and identify who is speaking. Even during a long conversation between just two people you need to refresh the reader with who is saying what so they don’t become lost in the dialogue.
  • If you use dialogue in an interview (non-fiction) you always identify and exactly quote the speaker (your original source). If you paraphrase you use proper punctuation (quotation marks) to show what is quoted and what is paraphrased or added.  Don’t misquote, you don’t want to put words in someone’s mouth when it’s a real person you may need to ask for information again.

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