We see a lot of writers asking how to improve their dialogue. And let's face it, authentic-sounding dialogue is hard to write. There are a lot of different things that go into a good conversation between characters. Today we'll talk about one of the basics.
Don't go overboard with your dialogue tags.
A dialogue tag, for anyone not familiar with the term, is the part after the spoken words that informs the reader who was talking. "Let's go to the mall," she said. At first, many new authors end up trying to vary their dialogue tags each time. After all, we're always told not to use the same words over and over again, right? The problem is that then you end up with this:
"Let's go to the mall," she suggested.
"No," he replied. "We went there yesterday. I don't want to go again."
"Well, what would you suggest?" she asked.
"I don't know," he grumbled. "I just don't want to go to the mall."
"Why not?" she whined. "You never want to do anything fun."
Did you notice ALL THE DIALOGUE TAGS? When you attach one to every sentence, it becomes distracting. It interferes with the flow of conversation. This is one instance where using the boring word - said - is often better, because said becomes almost neutral in text. We're so used to it that it doesn't interrupt what's going on.
Also be aware that not every sentence needs a tag. You can skip several sentences in between tagging, as long as you don't have a large group talking all at once, and readers can keep up with the verbal ping-pong match and track who's talking.
A great way to reduce your number of dialogue tags is through your use of punctuation. If someone asks a question, you don't need to add "she asked." Or if they yell and you use an exclamation point, you don't need to repeat yourself by saying "he yelled." (And the reverse is true: if you want to get rid of a few exclamation points, cut them and use an emphatic dialogue tag or action to show the mood instead.)
Take a look at the dialogue in your manuscripts, and see if you could stand to chop out some said/asked/replied type words. Happy editing!
Fortnightly on Mondays, we live critique one writer's query letter or first 250 words of their manuscript. Every Wednesday & Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day!