The question came up during a Wordy Woman webinar, "How can I improve my story's dialogue." How does a writer write good dialogue? What makes dialogue bad?
He said, She said, They said
Using said repetitively as a dialogue tag isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This choice is strictly up to the writer. However, dialogue tags can be used too much during a conversation between two people. If a reader understands who’s talking, then fewer tags are better. But if there are three characters talking, then you may want to increase your tags to provide the reader with direction.
However, don’t assume the reader understands know who’s talking if it’s merely a conversation between two people. You still need dialogue tags. Please don’t leave your reader confused! Using dialogue tags is an art, and it’s necessary.
How to spice up dialogue
A great way to improve dialogue is by breaking the conversation up with action. This can be the action of the character completing a task, or it can simply be the reaction of the character to what the other character is saying.
For writers, including myself, a great book to use is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I believe in this book and suggest it to writers all the time. It’s filled with hundreds of physical signals you can use to help express what your character is thinking or feeling (showing vs telling). This is a great tool to help spice up scenes, especially scenes filled with tons of dialogue
If you feel you have too many dialogue tags, then remove the tag and add a “reaction” from the character who’s speaking. This is a good way to inform your reader of who’s talking without having to use a tag.
Don’t be afraid to write dialogue. The only way to improve dialogue is with practice. If you find you’re describing a scene to the reader, and “telling” the reader about a conversation, replace the “telling” with an actual conversation between the characters. Your story will be better for it!
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