What are good and bad examples of dialogue?

 

What are good and bad examples of dialogue?

1. When writing dialogue listen to how people speak.

Sorry I’m late. I ah had to well I’ll explain after I order. Okay, put your bags down under the table. What are you going to order? The lemon is good. I don’t like lemon stuff. Yeah, last week my neighbor brought over the worse tart lemon bars for my birthday. Oh, um, how about green?

2. When writing dialogue learn the punctuation! Go down and by a grammar book and read it. Here’s a brief overview on correctly structuring dialogue.

  • Use quotation marks when someone is speaking.
  • Each time a new person speaks, create a new line and indent.

    Pick a color

    "Talking!" (Photo credit: Shamey Jo)

“Sorry I’m late. I ah had to, well I’ll explain after I order.”

“Okay, put your bags down under the table. What are you going to order? The lemon is good.”

“I don’t like lemon stuff.”

“Yeah, last week she said, ‘my neighbor brought over the worse, tart lemon bars for my birthday.’”

“Oh, um, how about green?”

3. Now the punctuation is correct but the dialogue is still horrible. We don’t know how many people are speaking. It’s also extremely boring! The first line was intriguing but the subject immediately changed. Dialogue brings the story to life (in my opinion) more than the details. It’s also good to avoid unnecessary words, though people do use a lot of ‘ah’, ‘well’, and ‘oh’ in everyday language, it clutters up story dialogue.

“Sorry I’m late!” Gwen said. “I had to dig in the garbage behind my house this morning.”

“Why?” Peter asked.

“Let her get settled first, can’t you see she’s worked up?” Beverly spoke up. “Why don’t you order some lemon tea?”

“She hates lemon. ‘My neighbor brought over the worse, tart lemon bars for my birthday. They went into the trash.’” Peter reminded everyone.

“Anyway, back to the reason I’m late.” Gwen took a deep breath and said. She took a box out of her pocket with a ring inside. “Look what I found.”

“Is that what I think?” Beverly asked.

“There’s a note hidden in the bottom of the box . . . under the ring.” Gwen concluded.

4. The actual dialogue is much better. It’s natural and the reader will be interested to know why Gwen found a ring in the trash. Now we know three people are speaking, Gwen, Beverly and Peter. There’s one glaring problem, the over use of tags: ‘said,’ ‘concluded’ and ‘asked’. Add some description between the lines of dialogue to help your readers “see” the scene you are creating for them. This will also help you develop characters by revealing personality traits.

“Sorry I’m late!” Gwen tossed her purse into the seat and yanked at the sleeves of her jacket. “I had to dig in the garbage behind my house this morning.”

“Why?” Peter asked.

“Let her get settled first, can’t you see she’s worked up?” Beverly scolded Peter. “Why don’t you order some lemon tea?”

“She hates lemon. ‘My neighbor brought over the worse, tart lemon bars for my birthday. They went into the trash.’” Peter mimicked Gwen.

“Anyway, back to the reason I’m late.” Gwen took a deep breath and sat on top of her purse. She yanked it out from underneath her butt and pulled out a black box. “Look what I found.”

“Is that what I think?” Beverly snatched the box from her palm and opened it. Inside sat a beautiful diamond ring. “Oh my!”

“Yeah, and that’s not it.” Gwen turned her attention to the menu, scanning the green tea section. “There’s a note hidden in the bottom of the box . . . under the ring.”

“You found this in the trash?” Beverly pulled the note out of the bottom of the jewelry box.

“Yeah, the garbage,” Gwen nodded.

“What made you dig through the trash for a ring? How did you know it was there?” Peter leaned into Beverly’s shoulder to get a better look.

5. The examples of dialogue have improving greatly. The sample above flowed well until the characters started to reiterate what we already know. Gwen had stated earlier that the ring was found in the trash, so dwelling on it slows the action down and annoys the reader. Yes, in reality three people might say this, but as writers you have to remember when writing dialogue you are building excitement or getting an important point across. Don’t slow it down with useless information.

“Sorry I’m late!” Gwen tossed her purse into the seat and yanked at the sleeves of her jacket. “I had to dig in the garbage behind my house this morning.”

“Why?” Peter asked.

“Let her get settled first, can’t you see she’s worked up?” Beverly scolded Peter. “Why don’t you order some lemon tea?”

“She hates lemon. ‘My neighbor brought over the worse, tart lemon bars for my birthday. They went into the trash.’” Peter mimicked Gwen.

“Anyway, back to the reason I’m late.” Gwen took a deep breath and sat on top of her purse. She yanked it out from underneath her butt and pulled out a black box. “Look what I found.”

“Is that what I think?” Beverly snatched the box from her palm and opened it. Inside sat a beautiful diamond ring. “Oh my!”

“Yeah, and that’s not it.” Gwen turned her attention to the menu, scanning the green tea section. “There’s a note hidden in the bottom of the box . . . under the ring.”

“How did you know the ring was in the garbage?” Peter learned over Beverly’s shoulder to see better. She slowly unfolded the worn note.

“My husband threw out my jury duty paperwork so I had to go searching for it.”

“This is interesting!” Beverly leaned forward with the note. Their heads came together to listen to her read.

talk
talk (Photo credit: lovelornpoets)

Other tips:

  • Don’t use profanity unless it’s necessary. My publisher won’t publish a book if it’s littered in swear words. Think about the books you’ve read full of profanity. I bet they weren’t your favorite? There is a place for strong language in a novel. Here’s an example from Caged Eagles:

Trevor twisted to see her better. “So as long as I act like your puppet, I will fit in perfectly?”

“That is being disrespectful.” She stopped near the doorway. We want to help you.”  

“Answer me this, resorting to stabbing isn’t a problem in your eyes?” 

“Yes, it’s a problem, but not all people are considered victims and Mr. Evans had a history of abuse himself.”

“Are you saying Forrest deserved what he got?” Trevor bellowed and Ilene Stout shrugged. Trevor lost control. “You stupid bitch.” 

  • Slang is a difficult thing to write into a story. Remember, not everyone is going to know what you’re talking about when you use slang or create a word. For example, in Montana we say, “There’s a skiff of snow outside this morning.” I get very questionable looks from non-residence when I say, “skiff of snow.” Most people think I’m talking about a boat on top of snow but the slang term means, there’s only a thin layer of snow on the ground.
  • Careful of stereotypes and assumptions, both can turn readers away from your writing.
  • I used single quotation marks when quoting another character. Peter was mimicking Gwen by quoting what she had said in an earlier conversation.
  • The three periods in a row are called an ellipse. These are used when there is a pause in the conversation. Keep in mind there is a space after each period in an ellipse, as you can see above. If an ellipse is at the end of a sentence there should be a fourth period to conclude the sentence.
  • For information: http://idiotsguides.com/static/quickguides/reference/how-to-use-the-dash-hyphen-and-ellipsis.html
  • Lastly, read the dialogue out loud! You’ll be surprised how well that little tip works to improve your dialogue.
  • This link provides other important information and examples of dialogue.

If the article above was helpful to you, I invite you to comment below.

Fill in the form above for free tips on writing or edit on three pages of your story! Learn more about my publications at: http://www.kaylahuntbooks.com/buy.


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