7 Tips to Writing Semi-Coherent Dialogue

You would be surprised how often people get confused on writing dialogue.  To be fair, it isn’t easy.  Not everyone uses the same amount or the same structure.  You have a variation of tags and tactics when it comes to dialogue.  Don’t even get me started on the long paragraphs of one character speaking that you have to figure out how to break up or throw in some action parts to reveal he or she is doing more than jabbering away without moving.  So, I’m going to give some suggestions on how to freshen up your dialogue . . . That or I’m about to make it worse.

  1. If you have two characters going back and forth, you can eventually stop using the tags altogether.  At least for this conversation, you can go without signifying who is talking because the reader has realized there are only two people.  Large chunks of conversation might be tougher to do, but comedic banter can be done this way since it’s supposed to fast.  Just don’t throw in a third person with no warning and then wonder why people are angry.
  2. Do NOT forget punctuation.  You might know somebody who speaks so quickly that it’s like they’ve been keeping the same run-on sentence for years.  That doesn’t mean people can understand what is being said.  Your characters might pass out from lack of breathing too.
  3. Try not to repeat the same piece of information.  If most of the characters weren’t around for the reveal then don’t have them learn one at a time.  Call a meeting or let them figure it out on their own at a climactic moment.  Doing otherwise leads to a population of boring, repetitive dialogues that people will remember more than the witty lines you’ve peppered your manuscript with.
  4. Stop reusing the same power phrase every few pages.  I know you want a tagline to put on a poster, coffee mug, t-shirt, adult diaper, or whatever swag you plan on giving out at the book signing.  You know that friend who will respond with ‘I am Groot’ or ‘I am Batman’ every time you say hello, so you no longer get any enjoyment from those phrases?  Yeah, don’t do that as the author.  Even the best line can lose its charm if you hear it too often, so use it sparingly.
  5. When writing dialogue, try saying it out loud to see if it makes sense.  Your ears can be better judges than your eyes when it comes to speaking parts.  Just be warned that you don’t want to attempt your villain’s threatening speech in the middle of the produce section.  It may lead to you getting first pick of the fresh bananas because people are staying away from you, but good luck getting help at the nearby deli counter.
  6. If you want to put accents into your dialogues then you need to research them.  Listen to people speak with it and make note of how it sounds.  Try to find other books that have used them because punctuation and slang is very important here.  You don’t want to declare that you’re using a Boston accent when it’s really a mutant hybrid of Welsh, German, and the sound you make when you get your hair caught in the car door.
  7. Don’t forget the non-verbal parts of dialogue.  Human communication is more about body language and voice tone than the words we use.  I could say ‘Welcome home’, but my tone can be the difference between genuine, sarcastic, and threatening.  You can accomplish this by adding words near the tag to denote emotions such as ‘angrily says’ or ‘dryly mentions’.  I know these aren’t popular for some reason, but they can really help here.  Having the character sigh, roll their eyes, cross their arms, and do other physical activities help lock down their temperaments too.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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39 Responses to 7 Tips to Writing Semi-Coherent Dialogue

  1. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Great writing tips from Charles 👍😎

    Like

  2. V.M.Sang says:

    Great post, Charles. Thank you. I hope many authors read this and take note.

    Like

  3. All good, Charles. Thanks,

    Like

  4. L. Marie says:

    Wonderful tips, Charles! As you said, dialogue writing isn’t easy. But dialogue gives us a window into a character’s mind, as well as moving the plot forward.

    Your characters have great banter. What inspired you in your dialogue writing? I can’t help thinking of old movies and old comedy routines (like Groucho Marx and the Marx Brothers), which are known for great banter.

    Like

  5. Great tips. Appreciate the refresher.

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  6. C.E.Robinson says:

    Great info, Charles. You hit the nail on the head about using dialogue. I’m doing a lot of it in my book, and believe me, you’ve got to get it right. My editor keeps me thinking how to make dialogue better. And it’s awesome when it flows naturally. 📚🎶 Christine

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    • What are your editor’s suggestions?

      Liked by 1 person

      • C.E.Robinson says:

        Editor’s suggestions – 1. Show individuality & voice. 2. Turn dialogue into a dance. Two characters care about one another and their dialogue
        builds on what the other person says, ringing changes on it. It shows the two characters are listening to one another and appreciating what the other is saying. 3. Natural talking is sometimes messy, words are left out, repeated and reflect the characters state of mind. Don’t be formal in dialogue. 4. Watch the use of tags. If two people are talking, it’s clear when they speak. No tags are needed. Show some action to enhance what is said. That’s about it so far. I have two more 50 page sections to be edited. Maybe more suggestions coming. 📚🎶 Christine

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      • 3 is a good one especially when it comes to grammar. Some people expect fictional characters to speak better than real people. Not sure what to think about 4. I’ve tried removing tags when it’s one on one discussions and readers get confused unless I write the name of the listener in the dialogue. That gets repetitive, so I save that trick for quick back and forth one liner parts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • C.E.Robinson says:

        Thanks, Charles, for your feedback. On # 4. I do the one liners and even longer conversations with no tags, but scatter in action. It’s with a couple or good friends. The distinct character’s voice carries who’s speaking most times. 📚🎶

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      • I guess I make more distinctions with actions than talking patterns. Early on, people would edit out slang and verbal quirks from my stories. So, I have a mental block there.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. jomz says:

    I like writing dialogue, and this is very helpful! Thanks.

    Like

  8. missimontana says:

    Great article. I love your use of humor to make a point. Dialogue is fun, I don’t understand why some people want to get rid of it.

    Like

  9. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from Charles Yallowitz via his Legends of Windemere blog with 7 Tips to Writing Semi-Coherent Dialogue

    Like

  10. Thank you for the very useful information, Charles. Best wishes, Michael

    Like

  11. As with all writing, you have to pretend you’re there, talking to people, and try to get down the natural flow of a conversation.

    Like

  12. runningshoo says:

    Good article, some great tips, thanks.

    I love writing dialogue, but the more I do it, the more I worry about characters from different things sounding like each other. Or even being each other. I have a bunch of character archetypes in my head that I didn’t realise I had. They keep cropping up unexpectedly and I think, “Oh, nuts, I’m writing her again.”

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    • I think characters can sound similar. Many of mine do when they talk because I don’t do accents or slang. This is why I depend a lot on dialogue tags.

      Liked by 1 person

      • runningshoo says:

        I try (and usually fail) to write to the maxim that you should be able to tell which char is talking just by the dialogue alone.

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      • I’ve never been able to figure it out as a reader unless there’s a specific phrase or accent.

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      • runningshoo says:

        It may be a piece of scriptwriting advice I’m trying to crowbar into prose writing.

        I’ve been trying to have dialogue demonstrate a char’s dominant trait like wordy vocabulary, tendency towards brainless cheer, creepiness, self-effacing or wotnot. It sort of works in the sketchy kind of stuff I tend to write but I do end up creating caricatures when I follow it slavishly.

        Plus sometimes a character really just needs to say something simple like “no” and it goes out the window.

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      • It’s tough to get a clear variety. Wordy characters run the risk of info dumps and others may have moments of excited blabbing. I try to let things be natural and put in physical tics or an occasional common phrase. For example, one of my heroes on Legends of Windemere apologizes a lot.

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  13. Pingback: 7 Tips to Writing Semi-Coherent Dialogue — Legends of Windemere | L.A. Kennedy

  14. Pingback: 7 Tips to Writing Semi-Coherent Dialogue — Legends of Windemere | FEEDBACK Female Film Festival

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