TIPSY Today™ Blog with Rogena & Colleen | A Footprint of RMJ Editing & Manuscript Service, Colleen Snibson Editing, and Two Red Pens Editing
The importance of dialogue in one's story can't be expressed strongly enough.
Learn to use dialogue to show the reader what is happening without what is called "information dumps" of narrative—or telling. Learn to use dialogue in such a way that the plot—or the scene—is painted clearly, showing the reader instead of telling them. Write dialogue so you won't need to use a dialogue tag each time to tell the reader who is speaking.
A skilled writer can incorporate almost everything into dialogue, urging the reader to want to keep reading for more of the conversation. It can advance the plot, as well. It can even drive the story forward when the plot might not be as strong and as tight as it should be.
When writing dialogue, one should determine to write it in such a way that tags are not even needed. Once this style is consistent, the writer will not ever want to use a tag again. Everything from who is speaking, body language, reactions, beats—dialogue can portray it all.
If a tag is needed, don't use descriptive words to tell the reader anything—especially -ly words. They can be annoying and cause the reader to slow down as they try to read the description word and to figure out what the author is telling them.
When an author cannot get a message across in dialogue, use narrative instead of a tag to show who is speaking and how the character is feeling. If they are angry or sad, instead of "said angrily," write a sentence to show this person is angry by a look on their face or an action they might take—stomping their foot, slamming a fist on a table, slamming a door, turning away. Use the character's name at the beginning of this narrative instead of "Sally said."
Everything in a character's speaking part of a story should reveal something to the reader. Dialogue should do at least one of the following: expose something about the character or the plot, propel the story forward, and make the reader anxious (in a good way) to read the next section of dialogue, allow the reader to see and feel the story before them—or all of these things. Make the reader want to get to the next segment of dialogue.
Let the dialogue be the most relevant element of the story. The reader will want to be within the story if the author does this. When drafting the story, an author should imagine themselves as an actor trying to show the reader what the character is doing. Become the characters in the story. If the author can feel as if they are there, so will the reader. Master how to show not only the physical aspects of a scene but the emotional. Allow passion to come alive within the pages of the book. Cause the reader to feel as though they are there.
The question now is how does one do this?
And more practice.
The best books for an editor or a reader (in my humble opinion) are those where dialogue advances the plot—and few tags with nothing more than said or asked are used.
Let's remember, too, information dumps can also occur in dialogue. Don't do this, either. Writing should be tight and to the point. Whether in narrative or dialogue, be sure everything advances the story, the plot—use both narrative and dialogue to push to the story's end. Ask yourself if what you just wrote advances the story toward resolution of the plot and is it necessary. If not, remove it.
The goal should be to tighten your writing so not to have info dumps anywhere—and to use fewer dialogue tags. When the story is written in such a way—whether in dialogue or narrative—tags become unnecessary in most instances. Not to say a writer should never use tags, but the story flows much better if the reader doesn't have to 1) constantly read tags to know who is speaking or what is happening, and 2) not knowing who is speaking because it needed a tag due to insufficient information in either dialogue or narrative.
This brings us to a reminder not to use action words as tags—she giggled, he laughed, Sally shrugged, Bob winked, he clipped, she groaned, growled, snarled. Those are not tags—they are body actions, not speaking. One cannot shrug a sentence. Tags are words like said, asked, responded, yelled, whispered, retorted, barked and more.
Remember, when writing in such a way where tags are not needed, the writer will not make this mistake.
One other pointer for authors, know that an editor's greatest pet peeve is typically fixing dialogue punctuation. Therefore, all authors should learn to punctuate dialogue correctly. Why? Because then the author can know it is correct for readers. There are rules to follow when punctuating dialogue. Learn them. Editors will appreciate it, and so will readers.
Moreover, and this is for all editors who are reading this—for the love of all things grammar, make sure to learn how to punctuate dialogue correctly. It is our job as book editors—content, developmental, and copy editors.
Do not fail the client.
They trust their editor to know and to do it accurately.
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