Jan 01 2008

9 Easy-to-Fix Dialogue Mistakes

Published by at 1:01 pm under Generic Writing Guide,Writing Articles

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

This article will help you write better dialogue in novels.

1. Avoid niceties.

Bland lines like “it’s nice to see you” and “how are the kids?” should be removed. Every sentence of a conversation should either advance the plot or develop a character.

2. Readers hate paragraphs of exposition and info-dumping.

“As you know, John, this is what we were working on together right before the book started.” First, any sentence that begins with “as you know” or anything similar probably needs to be rewritten. More generally, if you have to impart a significant chunk of information to your readers, it’s usually more effective to handle it out of conversation. For example, you could show one character’s letter or e-mail to another. One advantage of an e-mail is that, unlike dialogue, the readers aren’t constantly interrupted by interjected dialogue.

3. Please avoid conversations that don’t do anything.

In real life, people chat aimlessly. “How was your weekend?” That’s fine… in real life. In fiction, dialogue should always be goal-driven. Aimless conversations are boring. What do your conversants want to accomplish? For example, if one character is trying to uncover some embarrassing secret that the other character is trying to hide, that will give your dialogue focus and a reason for us to care. The best conversational objectives are concrete and pose one character against another.

Authors sometimes feel that they need dialogue to develop a character. That may be true, but developing the characters is your objective, not theirs. Give the characters a reason of their own to engage in the conversation and that will help flesh out the dialogue as a dramatic conflict, rather than a freestyle psychiatric session.

4. Don’t mislead your readers.

Generally, it is wise to avoid conversations where characters offer dishonest, incorrect or otherwise unreliable information. Unless you have set your readers up for intrigue, conflicting data will probably cause them to feel confused rather than intrigued.

If you must include dishonesty, please make it immediately clear that the character may be (or is) lying and why he has a motive to do so. Mystery writers have more leeway here.

5. Conversations with more than three characters are hard to follow.

Each additional character makes it much harder to understand who’s saying what and who’s trying to accomplish what. The most enjoyable conversations are almost always two-sided.

Having too many parties is especially problematic when some speakers play the same role. For example, if two parents are scolding their son for smoking, they’re probably interchangeable. If you see duplicate characters like this in your own writing, you should eliminate as many as possible. On the other hand, you may find it profitable to embrace the presence of many characters by fully differentiating them, their goals and their mindsets. For example, maybe the mother thinks her son’s smoking habit is really dangerous and wants to punish him, but the father smoked in school and doesn’t think it’s very serious. The son wants to play his father against his mother to escape punishment. This conversation provides an interesting role for all three participants. If the two parents had played the same role (both wanting to punish the kid, for example), including both probably wouldn’t make sense.

6. Conversations that gain or lose tension too quickly are typically less effective.

I’ve seen pieces horrifically close to this: “Honey, I asked you twice this morning to take out the garbage.” “I hate you.” “I want a divorce.” Scale your tension!

For example, if you wanted a conversation to end in a divorce, try this. The wife reminds him to take out the trash and he counters that she hasn’t done her housework in a week. She snaps back. He raises his voice and she runs off muttering. They glower at each other for the rest of the day. They fight again that evening. Over time, a divorce will become increasingly plausible for this family.

7. Don’t have your narrator overanalyze the conversation (“I had him right where I wanted him”)

First-person narrators sometimes feel the need to explain each verbal thrust as they’re jousting with someone. (“I remembered that he had claimed to be out of Miami when the crime was committed. I only had to get him to admit that he was at the Dolphins game and he was sunk.”) Don’t tell us why each move he’s making is so brilliant. If your speaker is genuinely crafty, that should be obvious.

Perhaps your readers won’t immediately appreciate why his strategy is crafty. If we won’t remember why it’s so important to place the suspect in Miami during the game, for example, then your character can explain his strategy to an ally beforehand. That’s a much better approach than trying to describe it to the reader as he’s trying to carry it out. It’s easier to appreciate the strategy if we understand what the plan is beforehand rather than just getting a piecemeal take on his next move.

8. Don’t let your conversations read like transcripts (unless you write for a superhero website, in which case transcripts are totally awesome)

Each conversation should include a scene and body language. Where are your speakers conversing? Try to show them interacting with their scenery. At the very least, remind us where they are. If two characters are talking in a rowdy sports bar, for example, the ambiance will be very different than in a corporate boardroom.

Characters should also be mindful of who they are speaking to. For example, the President will speak very differently at a campaign rally (to his supporters) than at a diplomatic summit (to other world leaders). Closer to home, you probably speak differently with your boss than with your peers or subordinates.

9. Don’t let your characters repeatedly refer to each other by name.

Do your conversations sound like this? “I love you, John.”  “I love you too, Martha.”  “I know, John.”  It’s smoother and more natural to identify the speaker of each line by using tags like “he said” or “Martha said.”

44 responses so far

44 Responses to “9 Easy-to-Fix Dialogue Mistakes”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 21 Oct 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I write dialogue like this: “I know he said ‘I hate you’, but I think he was lying”. But in some of the books I’ve read, it’s reversed: ‘I know he said “I hate you”, but I think he was lying’. Which way is right?

    Thanks!

  2. Bretton 21 Oct 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Your way :“I know he said ‘I hate you’, but I think he was lying” is right. Double outside, single inside. always.

  3. B. Macon 21 Oct 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Yeah, the double-quotes are used on the outside. The example used by Perdue’s Online Writing Lab is…

    The agricultural reporter for the newspaper explained, “When I talked to the Allens last week, they said, ‘We refuse to use that pesticide.’ “

    However, that’s the set style for American writers. The rules may be reversed for British English. I’ve never written for a British publisher, but my guess is that if you gave one a manuscript that used American-style quotes, they probably wouldn’t hold it against you very much.

  4. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 21 Oct 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Okay, thanks! 🙂

  5. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 08 Nov 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Would a publisher hold it against me if I had something like this?

    “Oh, ^&%$! I haven’t done my assignment!”

    Since I’m writing for teens, I’m not having any word worse than “crap”. But I want to show how upset he is by using a worse word, but censoring it. Would this be a problem?

  6. B. Macon 08 Nov 2008 at 6:29 pm

    I think that censoring it might be too intrusive for your readers. I recommend “dang” or “shit.” Dilbert used “carp.”

  7. Ragged Boyon 08 Nov 2008 at 7:12 pm

    I’m pretty sure “shit” is worse than “crap”, B.Mac.

  8. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 09 Nov 2008 at 12:31 am

    I think I’ll go with “dang”. Thanks!

  9. Ragged Boyon 23 Nov 2008 at 3:21 pm

    One last thing before I get too far in writing, I can come you with the words and punctuation of the dialogue, but writing it out is the hard part for me. When should the dialogue be part of a paragraph and when shouldn’t it? Also, when a conversation ends, is the last line of dialogue incorporated into the next full paragraph or is it just its own line?

  10. B. Macon 23 Nov 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Generally, each set of lines from a speaker gets its own paragraph.

    That would look something like this…

    “Hello,” said B. Mac.

    “It’s time for you to die,” said Cadet Davis.

    “Do you have an army of ninja behind that curtain? If not, I find that highly unlikely,” said B. Mac. He found no ninjas behind the curtain.


    Here, I think that you could have either three or four paragraphs depending on your preference. “He found no ninjas…” could be made into its own paragraph. (If there were a string of actions there, I’d recommend doing that for aesthetic reasons).

    The main spacing/paragraph rule to keep in mind is that line-breaks are only absolutely essential, I think, when the dialogue switches from one speaker to another. You really need to put a line-break between B. Mac’s sentence and Davis’ sentence.

  11. Ragged Boyon 11 Dec 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Adrian is a very acting oriented person. How much common stage dialoque could I work into his character voice before it becomes annoying?

    I wanted his catch phrase to be “Stage is set, make your move!”

    He’d also use a few acting related phrases, some more than others.

    “That’s my cue!”

    “This is my spotlight, get your own!”

    “Are you portraying stupid? Or just letting your true self shine through?”

    “An actor never misses his mark”

    “If you don’t know me now, you will later”

    “I think it’s time for you to make your exit”

    What’s the matter, got a little stage fright”

    “You obviously can’t handle my stage”

    Most of these would be used in battle. Yeah, some of them are meaner than others but what do you think?

    Newsflash: The full moon cycle has begun, being an aquarius, my artistic inquiry will be at its best for the next two days. Yay.

  12. B. Macon 11 Dec 2008 at 8:08 pm

    In a comic book, I think it’s sort of accepted that you can be a little bit cheesier in fight scenes. That said, I think some of these are more effective than others.

    I’m very fond of “that’s my cue!” That feels very natural and subtly reminds us that the character is an actor.

    “This is my spotlight, get your own!” has potential, I think, but could be a bit awkward.

    “It’s time for you to make your exit.” OK.

    “Are you portraying stupid? Or just letting your true self shine through?” I think that this jargon will be awkward for readers that aren’t familiar with the theatre. It also feels like he’s trying too hard to remind us that he’s an actor.

    “Stage is set, make your move!” I think this also sounds like he’s trying too hard to remind us that he’s an actor.

    “An actor never misses his mark.” I think this would be OK in dialogue. If this comment came up in context, I think it could be smooth. If it were a one-liner that he just threw out of nowhere, it would probably be too corny.

    “If you don’t know me now, you will later.” This could probably be rephrased for decisiveness (“you don’t know me yet, but you will”). Without the right context, I think this will sound cheesy.

    “What’s the matter, got a little stage fright?” This is a neat taunt that, like most of these one-liners, should probably be used only once. Do you think it would be problematic that he’s using theatre-jargon in combat? Maybe it would make it easier for his enemies to figure out who he really is. (How many theatre programs are there in the ‘hood?)

    “You obviously can’t handle my stage.” This is a bit awkward. I think that it may be smoother for him to build a fuller analogy between the world of superheroes and the world of acting. For example, in Superhero Nation, when one football-crazy agent is trying to explain to a new recruit what OSI work is like, he says “It’s like football, but there are no refs, no timeouts, and every play makes the highlight reel.”

  13. thechosenfewon 29 Sep 2009 at 11:26 pm

    How do you do the thinking part in a story, or is that in any books. Like: ~hrm I wonder if I should go out for a drink~ he thinks to him self quietly as he sits on the sofa.

    Or should it be more like this: as john sits on his old sofa he mutters “I wonder if I should go for a drink to night” still holding the remote control to the T.V. he changes it to the news, he then turns the volume down till there was only mutters coming from the TV. “The world is going into chaos, and I’m thinking about a cold one” he turns it off and leaves for the bar. Walking the cold and harden streets he looks down on the ground to find a paper the symbols on it were written in ink, but couldn’t be identified as a language at all. he continues to the bar music could be heard from out side and chatter filled the streets as he drew clear, he opens the wooden framed door, to find no one, he begins to think he is going crazy, he runs through the place searching for the people he once heard searching for the music, he gave up and ran out side collapsing on the ground out of breath, he looks to the ground and he heard the sounds again, he looks towards the door, as it was open half way the music playing, people chatting. a woman walks past the door he stands up and walks to the door opening it slowly then walks in everyone seemed to be enjoying them selves, he leaves and walks back down the street scared on what happened he walks and never stops, back home.

  14. B. Macon 01 Oct 2009 at 12:14 am

    Great question, Chosen Few. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the format of a phrase like “I wonder if I should go out for a drink, he thought.” BUT please keep these two things in mind.

    1. I wonder if I should go out for a drink is bland. What’s his voice like? This could probably be made more distinctive and interesting. (For example, maybe he’s so thirsty that his throat feels like sandpaper).
    2. The “he thought” is usually unnecessary and can probably be removed (although this is probably inconsequential– I know a lot of authors that use it).

    In this case, you might have more success moving the thought into conversation. John calls up a friend to meet him at the bar. Here’s an example that helps develop his boredom and personality a bit more.
    JOHN: Hey, Larry!
    LARRY: What’s rocking? [or adjust voice as appropriate]
    JOHN: Bar-run. You in?
    LARRY: On a Tuesday? Nah, man.
    JOHN: Beats C-SPAN.

    I think this does a better job of showing his personality. The conversation also gives you an opportunity to develop another one of your characters– pretty much any character that’s remotely friendly with John can be used as “Larry.”

    Finally, I’d recommend bringing in more specific details (show, don’t tell)– for example, “everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves…” — what leads him to conclude that? (Maybe body language, music, someone dancing on a table, etc). How are they enjoying themselves? Give us the details to put us in this scene.

  15. ekimmakon 14 Sep 2010 at 5:56 pm

    How would you write dialogue for a conversation between two characters, when there’s a third character trying to make a point?

    Like those times where two people are arguing, while a third one tries to point out the mortal peril they’re in.

  16. B. Macon 14 Sep 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Hmm. What are they arguing about, what’s their relationship like, and what’s the personality/voice of the third character like?



    –It might be a bit more believable/dramatically effective if the first two characters didn’t know how much danger they were in, unless they had a really good reason to argue even though they were in mortal peril. (For example, if they have some disagreement about how best to get out alive, or if the two seriously distrust each other because they think the other got them into this mess, etc).

    –It might help if the third character were distracted by something that kept him from fully intruding into the conversation and saying something intelligent like “Knock it off or we’re all going to die.” For example, maybe he’s holding a door closed from an adversary outside while the two remaining heroes are bickering about how they can get out of there. If the third character is distracted by something, I think it’ll give you more freedom to let the first two go at it.

  17. Guardian7on 14 Sep 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Here is a comic book version of a character being unable to possible make a crucial point. While others rattle on.

    Avengers Issue 164 (October 1977)

    The very beginning of the story shows the Beast trying to get a word in edgewise when the Avengers are discussing Wonder Man’s physiology.

    Beast keeps trying to interject his opinion, but keeps getting drowned out by Yellowjacket, Black Panther and Tony Stark (Iron Man).

    Beast’s frustration is done rather well at not being heard as he stomps off.

    It is a great bit of characterization and kind of shows what you maybe want. Hopefully that is the kind of scene you mean.

    If you get a chance read it.

    That’s my 2 cents.

  18. Puzzleson 22 May 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I’m currently writing a novel about superheroes.
    To me it seems the 1st part has more paragraphs explaining the back story, the characters, and the major predicament they are in.
    However, the 2nd part is completely drowned in to-and froth conversations as the characters try to decide on which side their loyalties lie, have really long conversations about their feelings (typical I know… but it’s crucial to the plot; I’ve tried my best to keep it from getting mushy or overly-dramatic :D), and obviously bicker.

    Do you think it’s strange to have one part in PARAS and the other part in DIALOGUES? If yes, suggest some solutions please..

    P.S. I found the above article really helpful in improving my dialogue-writing!! Keep up the good work!! 🙂

  19. B. McKenzieon 23 May 2012 at 2:23 am

    “Do you think it’s strange to have one part in paragraphs and the other part in dialogue?” That would be unusual. Some thoughts:

    –You can have characters perform actions (besides dialogue) which help develop their shifting loyalties and/or relationships. For example, if a character of dubious loyalty is studying security plans for the building where his ostensible allies are holding Dr. MacGuffin’s doomsday device, he doesn’t need to announce that he’s planning on stealing the death ray–we should be able to figure that out based on his actions and/or interpretation about what we know of his motives. I’m hesitant to recommend a book that’s likely outside of your preferred genres, but I would recommend checking out how loyalty/betrayal influence conversations and affect the plot in Point of Impact and Silence of the Lambs. In particular, I would recommend checking out the conversations between Hannibal Lecter and Clarence Starling in SOTL, because conversations use elements like emotions and backstory to advance the plot and help characters accomplish urgent goals.

    –Dialogue should incorporate elements besides lines of speech. For example, paragraphs on body language, setting, what characters are doing besides talking, maybe characters’ thoughts, narratorial interjections, and anything else that might be interesting and/or contribute to the scene.

    –Dialogue can help explain the backstory, develop key character traits, and advance the plot.

    “I’m currently writing a novel about superheroes… the 2nd part is completely drowned in to-and froth conversations as the characters try to decide on which side their loyalties lie, have really long conversations about their feelings (typical I know…)” Two things here. First, when you’re pitching your book to publishers, please don’t sell your story this short–“drowned in to-and-froth conversations… and… really long conversations about their feelings” is probably not the most interesting way to explain your plot. Second, it might help to read more superhero novels and keep in mind what separates your work from the pack. Really long conversations about feelings strike me as rather atypical for a superhero novel, which could help distinguish your submission (assuming you phrase it in an appealing way–I’d recommend talking in terms of how characterization drives the plot).

  20. Finvisibleon 09 Jul 2012 at 3:48 pm

    @The ReTARDISed Whovian

    Shit is absolutely fine. If you look at some of Kathy Reichs books for teens, you will see that shit is said multiple times throughout the book. 🙂

  21. Pandora Bon 10 Jul 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Is there ever a time to write something like

    “Someone’s trying to cheat, but as you all know, I have her address,”

    As opposed to

    “Someone’s trying to cheat, but as you all know, I have her address.” It seems weird to put the comma there if you’re ending the paragraph, such as

    “Well, where are they?” he asked. She shrugged. Her computer lit up and she ran to it, pressing keys. “Someone’s trying to cheat, but as you all know, I have her address,”

  22. B. McKenzieon 10 Jul 2012 at 4:30 pm

    A line of conversation should only end with a comma if a dialogue tag follows.

    “Someone’s trying to cheat, but as you all know, I have her address,” she said.
    OR: “Someone’s trying to cheat, but as you all know, I have her address.”

    For more details on punctuating dialogue, please see this article.

  23. Anonymouson 08 Aug 2012 at 4:23 pm

    I sometimes have more than three characters present, but only two or three actually talk. Is that a problem or should I try and out in the remaining silent character doing something, just to remind the readers that they’re there? Also, I have a character called Amelia with two nicknames – Amy and Miley – is that two confusing? Only my main girls call her Miley: everyone else knows her as Amy or Amelia… There is a reason behind her being called Miley though.

  24. B. McKenzieon 08 Aug 2012 at 4:38 pm

    “I sometimes have more than three characters present, but only two or three actually talk. Is that a problem or should I try and out in the remaining silent character doing something, just to remind the readers that they’re there?” If the character has nothing to contribute to the scene, I think it’d help to move them somewhere else–e.g. if you’re trying to set up a conversation between Superman and Wonder Woman, rather than having Batman as a third wheel, you could have him abruptly leave (perhaps because he has received an urgent phone call or computer update or has anything else to do). Failing that, if the character is in the conversation, I would sort of recommend having him/her contribute at least a little, but I would not give the character worthless lines/actions. However, I don’t think it would be a major problem if a character was in a conversation without contributing. (However, if the character is major and repeatedly fails to contribute to conversations, then I would recommend reevaluating the character).



    “Also, I have a character called Amelia with two nicknames – Amy and Miley – is that too confusing?” Potentially. Between Amelia, Amy and Miley, I could easily see myself forgetting a character’s third name on occasion. One possible solution would be cutting Amelia.

  25. Dr. Vo Spaderon 02 Nov 2012 at 3:27 pm

    …Hey! I’ve got an excerpt from a previous draft that I’d like to post, so I can get some tips or advice on my dialogue writing. Is it alright if I post it here?

  26. B. McKenzieon 02 Nov 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Sure, go for it.

  27. Dr. Vo Spaderon 02 Nov 2012 at 4:17 pm

    “So what happened?” Eloise asked.

    Mark glanced over at her, then back at the road. “What do you mean?”

    “Between mom and…you.” she clarified. “‘Where were you the last fifteen and a half years’, I guess.”

    “Maria and I…” Mark sighed. “She thought I was cheating on her.”

    Eloise was quiet for a moment. “Were you?”

    Shaking his head, he answered: “No. I never would have done anything like that to her, I swear.”

    “So she just left?” Eloise asked.

    He nodded. “Yep. Left with Jack.”

    “Who?”

    Mark frowned. “Jack? You don’t know him?”

    “No. Mom’s always been single. Was always single.” Eloise corrected and leaned her head against the window.

    “There’s a rest area up here.” Mark told her changing the subject. “Airport’s not far from there.”

    “Okay.” she said softly.

  28. Dr. Vo Spaderon 03 Nov 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Hmm…Realized I didn’t give much to advise on. 🙂

    I think my biggest concern with my own dialogue is that it ends up seeming too much like “Mark said”, “Mark said”, “Mark said”.

  29. Dr. Vo Spaderon 10 Dec 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Quick question – if one were to mention a liquid substance and then have something along the lines of “and it tasted like iron”, should you assume that the reader will realize that it’s blood? Or should that be clarified?

  30. M. Happenstanceon 10 Dec 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I think clarification might be necessary if the only details mentioned are that it’s a liquid and that it tastes like iron. What’s the context for the line? Is the speaker in a situation where the only logical liquid nearby would be blood?

  31. Dr. Vo Spaderon 11 Dec 2012 at 3:57 pm

    For the context, think fallen into a dark pit. Can’t see much, not familiar with the area…I think my question was more on how much we should assume the reader can infer.

  32. Glamtronon 27 Sep 2013 at 3:11 am

    I really get confused in writing. e.g in a novel that has about 4 protagonist and i want to write about 4 of them(i mean in a case where they are in different places).

  33. MangoFloaton 29 Nov 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Would it be OK if one of the protagonists (small superhero team) is specifically known for his niceties and politeness to everyone, including enemies?

    P.S. the guy’s slightly off and knows it so he tries to compensate by being extra nice, even while he’s killing you. Which is nice.

  34. Clip-Clopon 01 May 2014 at 5:16 pm

    I think that is a good way to make his personality a bit more unique. How is he “a bit off”?

    Also, how can you make betrayals, for instance, be surprising to the character AND the readers if you make it clear that the person may have been lying?

  35. B. McKenzieon 02 May 2014 at 3:01 am

    “Also, how can you make betrayals, for instance, be surprising to the character AND the readers if you make it clear that the person may have been lying?” Perhaps his motives are unclear. For example, in Game of Thrones, Lord Baelish acknowledges he’s the least trustworthy person in a country of liars, but he hides his goals well enough that it’s hard to know who he is plotting against and who he still needs as an ally.

    For example (GAME OF THRONES SPOILER), after the king’s top general discovered that the king is illegitimate, Baelish convinced the general to (try to) overthrow the king and replace the king with the legitimate heir to the throne. It was believable that Baelish was actually on board with the coup because he is well-known to be disloyal. However, Baelish’s actual plan was to betray the general to the king in order to gain the king’s trust… so that Baelish could later betray the king himself (END SPOILER). Baelish is still keeping in character by being consistently dishonest, but it plays out in a different way than readers (and characters) expected.

    Another possibility is generally decreasing the trustworthiness and/or reliability level. If 90% of the characters in the story are completely reliable, then yeah your characters would have to be crazy to work with anyone that’s a known liar. However, if most of the characters in the story are some degree of unreliable and/or dishonest, then working with a known liar might be the least bad option available to the protagonists. In The Taxman Must Die, almost every super-scientist is some degree of crazy, which forces the protagonists to turn to and/or screw over unreliable super-scientists. There are few if any Lucius Foxes willing/able to deliver consistently amazing results for a salary — more often it’s along the lines of “I’ll need $14 million of palladium, a stolen reactor prototype, and a prison break.”*

    Most of the super-science projects available to the protagonists have been seized from supervillains, so 1) almost all super-tech is extremely hard to replace, adding consequences to routine combat damage and 2) the characters don’t fully understand their systems’ capabilities or vulnerabilities as well as their opponents do, and 3) there are real costs to using confiscated technology. Villains rarely design for safety/survivability, and the protagonists are government employees seriously violating laws/regulations against using it. (Coming up with a plausible cover story for a 100 foot tall killing machine is challenging. An attempt to blackmail Boeing into taking credit/liability fails, and eventually they try framing one supervillain for using it to attack another supervillain).

    *Personally, I feel this is more promising than a setup like Agents of SHIELD where the protagonists have 100% cooperative, reliable super-geniuses on staff who don’t have any goals independent of helping their teammates as much as possible.

  36. Clip-Clopon 02 May 2014 at 11:34 am

    Haha I love your taste in super scientists, B.Mac. I get what you’re saying, and I think I’ll use the less-trustworthy method for my story. Thanks!

  37. ANGELLOVERon 22 Oct 2014 at 11:50 am

    I agree with b.mcenzie
    but can you have like a half and half, or would that not work

  38. B. McKenzieon 24 Oct 2014 at 9:34 pm

    “but can you have like a half and half [a combination of some super-scientists that are reliable/cooperative and some that are not], or would that not work.” Hmm… If you give the heroes reliable super-scientists, I anticipate that you’d be giving yourself much less to work with in terms of forcing them to use unreliable and/or antagonistic scientists.

    Alternately, perhaps there are scientists that are WILLING to help but not necessarily ABLE to be consistently helpful — e.g. in the X-Men movies, Hank McCoy is 50% brilliant and 50% disaster*. That’s more promising/interesting than the Agents of SHIELD setup (easy access to cooperative super-geniuses), I think.

    *E.g. turning himself into Beast and the explosive mishaps with the Havoc experiments. Also, a biologist would sort of have to be crazy to try building a plane, and even crazier to think that building it qualifies him to fly it. I can make a scalpel, but damn sure that doesn’t make me a surgeon.



    “I love your taste in super scientists, B.Mac. I get what you’re saying, and I think I’ll use the less-trustworthy method for my story. Thanks!” Any time!

  39. Jed Hon 29 Jan 2015 at 3:08 am

    “8. Don’t let your conversations read like transcripts”

    I agree with this point, but I think there’s also a stage where there can be too much additional information in between each piece of dialogue. For instance, I read a story once where, in the middle of a conversation, a person had a page-long flashback to a past event. 😀

  40. RhiannonDerpifulon 09 Apr 2015 at 11:22 pm

    Hello there! I’m new to this site, and I’m very thankful that I found it! Definitely going to be bookmarked next time I attempt writing.

    I have a few questions actually – some about dialogue, some about other things and I was curious if you could help me out:

    If I was to write dialogue from one character (let’s call him Jeff) talking to another character (Barry), and I felt I needed to start a new paragraph; what should I do to remain the knowledge that it’s still ‘Jeff’ talking?

    Bad, rushed example:
    “Hey, Barry, time to get up,” Jeff sighs, boring out the window. The day was shocking, but he knew not to let it get to him. If it did, he knew his mood would simply spoil in front of him. The weather often had wacky ways of doing that to him and it annoyed him thoroughly.

    He eyed his friend once more, noticing the limp, sleeping figure still breathing deeply and obviously still lost in his slumber.

    That’s where I get stuck. Would I merely just continue on that paragraph, or would I start on a new line? I’ve always been taught that starting on a new line means a new person is speaking and not to do it, so I’m just confused.

    Last thing.
    If I was to use –, would I use it in between two letters WITH spaces separating them from the em-dash, or would they be ONLY separated by it?

    Thanks in advance! 🙂

  41. B. McKenzieon 12 Apr 2015 at 7:25 am

    Hello, RD. Starting on a new line would be acceptable even if it’s the same speaker. Also, in context here, I think it’d be clear that it’s still Jeff talking (because Barry is asleep).

    When using the em-dash in fiction, generally spaces are not used. E.g. Chicago did the research, Tennessee provided the materials, and New York took the credit—hence “the Manhattan Project.” Newspapers, though — especially those that use AP style — generally add a space on both side of the em-dash.

  42. Tyleenia Ton 04 Jul 2015 at 8:31 pm

    About misleading dialogue, how’s ’bout this:

    The thief shook as I glared. “Where’s the jewels?”
    He whimpered. “In th-the warehouse.”
    “Which one,” I asked.
    “Th-the last one. By the d-docks.”
    “Which docks?”
    “The east H-Hampton ones.” He was lying, but, at the time, it was unknownst to me.
    I grumbled. “At least you’re more cooperative than the other one.”

    Would it work?

  43. B. McKenzieon 05 Jul 2015 at 6:20 pm

    Some thoughts, Tyleenia:

    “The east H-Hampton ones.” He was lying, but, at the time, it was unknownst to me.

    Stylistically, I’d suggest rephrasing this more plainly (e.g. “I didn’t know then that he was lying.”) Substantively, I think it’s probably unnecessary to tell us that he’s lying. I’d recommend hinting at it instead (e.g. if a character that had been very resistant starts talking with little impetus, I think that would be sufficient, and if you’re concerned that it’s too subtle, you could have the main character pleased that he was so cooperative) and/or making the reveal later on.

    I think the dialogue tags could be reduced here. E.g. “Which one,” I asked could easily be “Which?” It may also help to cut some of these clarifying questions from the main character. For example, “which one” and “which docks.” For example: “Where’s the jewels?” “In th-the warehouse. By the H-Hampton docks” would probably save 3+ unnecessary sentences. Alternately, you could have the main character push for clarifying details that require deeper cooperation/betrayal (e.g. insisting on knowing who else is involved and what sort of defenses they have at the warehouse).

  44. TTon 07 Jul 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks.
    So, like this?

    The thief shook as I glared. “Where’s the jewels?”
    He whimpered. “In th-the warehouse.”
    “Which one,” I asked.
    “Th-the last one. By the d-docks. The east H-Hampton ones.”
    “At least you’re more cooperative than the other one,” I grumbled. “What about defenses? Other people?”
    “R-Racoon* is on g-guard. So is T-Tiger*.”

    Would this version work?

    *The gang is the ‘Wild Bunch’.

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