Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Dialogue Rules and Hints

There are six rules about dialogue in modern writing that all writers need to be aware of:

1 - Only use he/she said/asked
2 - Don't use adverbs to qualify how someone spoke
6 - New speakers start with a new paragraph
4 - Only use he/she said/asked
5 - Don't use adverbs to qualify how someone spoke
6 - New speakers start with a new paragraph

I realise there are only three there, but as they are important they bore repeating. Use them and you can't go wrong. Actually, you can go hideously wrong which is why I've prepared the following hints as well.

Number 1: Use 'beats' to break up the dialogue.

Having a whole page of dialogue can get repetitive, boring and leave readers confused, so it needs to be broken up. The technical term for these breaking phrases is 'beat'.

A beat is a sentence or phrase showing the speaker, or the person whose point of view we are seeing the scene from, doing or thinking something. It could be an emotional reaction or a physical action. The speaker can be fiddling with their hands, changing gear or lying on their back in the sun unconcerned by anything. Beats also have the advantage of helping you to avoid the use of adverbs.

Have a read through any published book and see how writers use them.

Number 2: Don't overuse 'said' or 'asked'.

Okay, I've just listed a rule that told you to only use said or asked, so what options do you have? Aside from beats...not much. So what do you do? Make sure your dialogue is unique to the person speaking. If the conversation is between two people, then alternating between them shouldn't pose a problem. When you have three or more, then their speech has to be highlighted through said, or through the use of beats, such as 'Mike saw the fear in Hazel's eyes as she spoke'.

Number 3: Don't overuse dialogue.

It may be tempting to write every snippet of conversation, but this can get boring too. Some aspects should be given as description, especially bits that have been said before by other characters. If you want to have a page of dialogue just to show how boring someone is, you may be better off highlighting what is said (Mike talked for half an hour about pdgeons) and show people dropping off or playing games on their mobiles.

Number 4: If you're writing a script for film, television or the stage, ignore all the above.

Four hints, six rules. Hope they help. I'll leave you with a writing joke.

An author dies and is given the choice of going to Heaven or Hell, but is shown them both before he has to choose. His first stop is Hell and he sees writers chained to desks being forced to write for eternity and whipped if they don't produce anything.

He's then taken to Heaven where he sees writers chained to desks being forced to write for eternity and whipped if they don't produce anything. He turns to St Peter and said, 'This is exactly what happens in Hell. What's the difference?' Saint Peter said, 'In Heaven you get published.'

Au Revoir.

8 comments:

Lisa Shafer said...

Well, I use rule number three. :)

Martin Willoughby said...

Lisa: Good start. ;)

Amanda Borenstadt said...

LOL
That is the best joke!!! :)

For me, it really helps if I can get (beg, bribe, force) somebody to read my dialogue out loud. If I hear them stumble over it, I know it needs fixing.

Kelley said...

These are hard to remember sometimes but its SO true.

Martin Willoughby said...

Amanda: It kept me laughing for some time.

Kelley: Write them down...or (If you want to help my ego grow) bookmark the blog.

Deana said...

Great advice...especially the second list:)

ilima said...

Good reminders. Balance is key. Too many beats and it feels like the characters can't keep still. Too much said and it becomes VERY noticeable.

Martin Willoughby said...

Deana: Glad you like them.

Ilima: Tempereance in all things as they say. I tend to overdo dialogue and underdo the beats.