Crafting sentences while empathizing with a reader’s mind can be challenging and frustrating.  This article is intended to provide a few tips for improving dialog. 

Writers put their best foot forward, and believe that they have written a great story…but remember that the reader is your ultimate critic.  Imagine the frustration of reading confusing dialog, combined with the boredom of reading bland “he said – then she replied” dialog.  This should be enough to fuel your passion for great writing.

As a consummate reader, I have noticed that even the best writers sometimes overlook three basic rules:

 Rule #1 – Tell us who is talking!  Some books have a lot of characters, and when multiple characters get involved in a conversation, the reader can easily lose track of who is speaking.  For example:

                Lucy was bitter.  She turned to Charlie and said, “Get over here, you stupid blockhead.”

               “Are you calling me a blockhead?”

               “Don’t call him names,” said Snoopy.

               “I will call him whatever I want.”

               He seemed to consider the situation in deep thought.  “I don’t think that’s appropriate, Lucy.”

Quick:  who said which line?  Was Snoopy the last speaker, or was Charlie defending what was left of his manhood?  If your reader gets confused, the conversation loses its impact.   One way to clarify the speaker is with action.  For instance:  He dropped his doggie bone and said, “Hey, you can’t talk to Charlie that way.”  Snoopy would be the only character with a doggie bone.

Another method of clarifying the speaker is by having one character mention the other character’s name (e.g., “Charlie, you are a blockhead” would infer that Lucy is speaking).  

Rule #2 – Enliven the dialog tags.

Occasionally replace “he said / she replied” with some of these examples:








Some of these can be modified with adverbs:

Angrily shrieked

Flatly denied

Softly cried

Vehemently begged

Anxiously replied

Rule #3 – Know how to transition conversations:  more showing, less telling.  Yes, my English teacher wrote this a million times on my school papers, and I try to keep this in mind.  In dialog, if a character spoon feeds the story, it seems unnatural and amateurish:

                “Has anyone seen the butler?” asked Sherlock.  “The butler was here this morning, and he had blood spatters on his shoes.  He was also carrying a large knife and had mean little beady eyes, and although it was a dark and stormy night, he was wearing a yellow shirt and…”

Blah blah blah, you’ve bored us to tears.  Give us action.  Describe feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells. Was Lucy smiling when she called Charlie a blockhead?  Was her face angry and red?  Was she frantically waving her arms in the air? Draw us into your head, alluding to the situation in your story, without having your characters spell out every detail.  The better you know your own characters, the easier your writing will flow.

Then after you’ve rewritten your dialog, share it in the comments section below so that YES, WE CAN TALK!  I will offer any guidance that I can.