I’m joined today by prolific author F.M. Meredith, whose new book Unresolved (Rocky Bluff P.D. Series #13) is available now. She’s here to share some tips on how to write compelling dialogue. Take it away, Ms. Meredith:
Though you want dialogue to be realistic sounding, don’t copy how we really talk such as: “Hello, how are you.” “I’m fine, and you?” Leave all this greeting stuff and comments about the weather out unless it is important to the plot.
Dialogue should do one of two things: Move the plot along or reveal character.
Said and asked are better than the multitude of other dialogue tags such as responded, agreed, etc.
Better still, use the character’s action as a dialogue tag instead: “No way.” Dan pulled out his gun.
Or use description as a dialogue tag: Cynthia’s multi-colored silk skirt swirled around her long legs. “Are you coming or not?”
Go easy on the exclamation points. If the dialogue is exclamatory enough, an exclamation point is unnecessary. An exclamation point should never be used in narrative. Elmore Leonard said, “Use only one exclamation point per novel.”
Don’t ever have a character tell someone something that they already know to get information across. Maybe it is something that ought to be in narrative, but be careful of an information dump.
When writing, start a new paragraph every time a new person speaks or does something. This will help the reader follow what is going on.
Even if the conversation is between two people, if it goes on for long, put in a dialogue tag so that the reader knows who is talking. Of course, if there is a big difference in how each person speaks, this won’t be necessary.
For instance, if one person is educated, his grammar will be perfect. Another might use lots of clichés, or use poor grammar. If someone is from the south, he/she will speak differently than someone from New York. Another might not use complete sentences. Listen to people carefully (eavesdropping works) and watch for different speech patterns.
Never have one person speak for long periods of time—when we’re talking to one another, we interrupt, change the subject, etc.
Be sure that the reader knows where the dialogue is taking place. I’ve read too many books where I had no idea where the characters were having their conversation.
And my last tip, beware of talking heads. This means we need to see the characters and what they are doing while the conversation is going on. No one sits or stands perfectly still while talking—and this bring you back to the fact that you can use an action as a dialogue tag.
Phil scratched his head. “What do you expect me to do about it?”
Next stop on the tour is at http://kmccullough.com/kblog/, where the author asks why she’s torturing herself!
The book: Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.
The author: F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra.