How to Avoid Common Mistakes when Writing Dialogue

Three Parts:Using Dialogue TagsUnderstanding How to Tag CharactersAvoiding Dialogue Mistakes

The goal in writing fiction is to keep the reader engaged in the story. But bad dialogue is something that could potentially destroy the reader's attention, nevertheless annoy them. Continue reading to understand the basics of dialogue.

Part 1
Using Dialogue Tags

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    Use the attribution, said. When readers are skimming along through a novel, the word "said" is just like a punctuation mark. Usually, this tag is easier to use, because it doesn't require you to have a long list of vocabulary words, so-to-speak.
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    Avoid using different words as "tags". Having a large vocabulary is a good thing, especially when writing fiction. But when it comes to dialogue tags, this is not always recommended.
    • For example: "Maddie," he opined, "I love you." The previous statement made by the fictitious character is completely fine, but many readers would be most interested by the word "opined." That's not a good thing. Your reader must be focused on the dialogue that moves the story forward, not the tags used in the dialogue.
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    Don't reach for the thesaurus, so-to-speak. When it is necessary to use different words as tags, that is fine. But instead, if you need an attribution, use said. If you must use something different for the occasional question, you could toss in asked".

Part 2
Understanding How to Tag Characters

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    Avoid overusing a character's name in dialogue. In dialogue, you will probably be most likely to have two characters repeat each other's names over and over, just so that you can help the reader identify who's talking. Stop right there. It might be problematic if you are trying to give hints to the reader to let him know who is talking in the story through dialogue.
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    Give a character some action. What this means is that you should make a character do something, and immediately after that, make the character say something. It will give the reader an idea about who's talking. For example: Jack trailed his finger along the railing. "I'm sorry." Sally nodded. "I accept your apology."
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    Avoid chit-chat. We get plenty of this in real life, but in fiction? This is a no-no. Shorten your character's sentences to avoid him/her sounding like a know-it-all.
    • If you don't like the way your character is speaking, review your character notes. The way the character speaks depends on the character's personality.

Part 3
Avoiding Dialogue Mistakes

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    Avoid clunkers. The worst offender here is dialogue with backstory or exposition. For example: "Do you remember when I had to pay my bill on time?" Why is this character saying this? Why is it relevant to the story? Most of the time, backstory should be eased into the story as time goes forward, not through dialogue.
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    Avoid accents. While great dialogue is great when it is diversified with the characters, too much of this is as bad as a football player playing soccer. When in doubt, tell the reader that the character had a "a lovely Scottish burr," or "a British accent with a flourish." This makes the reader develop their own sense of this.
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    Avoid internal dialogue. Remember, giving a character the quality of thinking is a good thing, but don't overdo it. Too much thinking can slow the story's pace, particularly when the character thinks and thinks and just keeps thinking about the same thing throughout the story. What's the point? We want answers! Not thinking.
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    Avoid mimicking real conversations. Yes, making dialogue sound real is awesome! But at times, it isn't. Real people stutter, burp, sniffle, and more throughout their sentences. Don't add all of this into your dialogue. It's just distracting and choppy. It even makes the character sound like he's lying.


  • Make your dialogue sound natural,but not too natural. We often digress when we speak, but if you write this in dialogue, chances are, you might lose your reader. Don't shove in irrelevant "ums", "ems", and "ers", unless the character is meant to be nervous. You can always use contractions, though.
  • Read your dialogue aloud and see if it sounds all right. Read it preferably to someone who will tell you if it sound odd or unnatural.
  • Don't make a character say "Goodbye" or "hello." Most people don't always say that unless they have really good manners, or maybe they've time traveled from the old days.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

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Categories: Better Writing