Fun with Dialogue

The Basics and the Tips:

Dialogue is often described as the bane of the writing world, and for good reason. Dialogue is a story’s most prominently used method for direct interaction between characters, and as such one of the most important aspects. Properly executing dialogue is vital to a fiction’s success, and there are a number of tips to ensure that it is.

Tip #1: Remember the uses of dialogue:

  • Explaining plot points
  • Revealing personality traits
  • Reinforcing characterization
  • Exposing dynamics between character relationships
  • Solidifying plot development

It is important to remember that dialogue should be used to support and strengthen the plot, not write the plot entirely. Far too many authors replace narration and action sequences with conversations between characters. Dialogue should never be used as a substitute for the story’s sequential design.

Tip #2: Make it natural and know your characters!

As noted above, dialogue is an excellent way to reveal personality traits and reinforce characterization. When writing fan fiction, however, the first step to this is making sure you know the character, and do not be blinded by arrogance. Even if you do have a strong grasp on, say, Hermione, it never hurts to reread excerpts from the series. One of my most consistent suggestions to writers is to read at least a couple pages from the books before you sit down to write. You would be amazed at how big of a difference it makes, and I can’t stress this suggestion enough.

Here’s a comprehensive list of what not to do when writing dialogue for Harry Potter fan fiction:

  • Use Americanisms, such as “like,” “sweater,” “trunk [in terms of cars],” or “bathroom.” Firstly, Harry would never say “like” [as in, “like, duh!”] because he is not a 9th grade valley girl. Secondly, let’s tackle the word “hot.” Harry would never use this word to describe anything other than a warm summer’s day. “Sweater,” on the other hand, is properly called a “jumper” in Britain. Also, they call “trunks” [as in the trunk of a car] “boots,” and a “bathroom” is a “loo.” Be very aware of the fact that you cannot simply write Harry’s speech as you would say it.
  • Use too many Britishisms [ie: mate, git, prat, etc]. Incorporating too many can do just as much damage as using Americanisms. Having Ron call Harry “mate” every other sentence isn’t at all believable. You would never, say, use the terms “buddy” or “pal” in each line either, so try to think of it in terms of realism. Sprinkle in the Britishisms with moderation, use them sparingly, and only in the proper situations. If you’re ever unsure, read it out loud. If you sound repetitive or flat, that’s your sign you’ve gone overboard with the British slang.
  • Write soliloquies, or long-winded speeches. The Harry Potter characters do not typically speak in paragraphs, and having Neville or McGonagall or anyone else go for more than a couple sentences without breathing isn’t a good idea. Remember that adding in description between lines can be an effective way to break up the dialogue while keeping it realistic. When the characters speak for paragraphs at a time, it seems fake and forced.

Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Further Your Understanding of the Characters:

  1. Who uses “mate” and “git” and “prat” most often?
  2. When was the last time you heard Hermione say "gerroff?"
  3. Which characters seem to be the “star” of the conversations? Conversely, which characters are the strong [or weak], silent type?
  4. What habits does Hermione exhibit while talking? [For example: chewing on the end of her quill?]
  5. Does Harry talk about personal issues easily? If not, it would be realistic for him to be a bit awkward when a personal issue is raised, correct?
  6. Is Ron outspoken or overly polite?
  7. Who, if anyone, stutters the most when nervous or upset?

Tip #3: Inner Monologues— use them sparingly!

Inner monologues are thoughts, or conversations the character has in his or her head. This portion of the guide will also address characters who speak aloud to themselves to illustrate the distinction between the two.

Most of us at one time or another have carried on an internal conversation— or at least had a private thought about something we observe in our surroundings. Your characters will occasionally do this as well. There are a few guidelines to remember. First, even when your conscience is pricked, very rarely will you argue with yourself in this fashion:

"I'm going to the mall."

"No, you're not."

"Yes, I am."

This isn't really an inner monologue— it will confuse your readers into thinking someone else is present, and frankly, there are better, more effective ways of going about internal conflicts. Anyway, here's the same basic line of reasoning as inner monologue instead of dialogue:

Sandy sighed. I guess I'm going to the ball with him. I really shouldn't, I know, but I have to.

Did you notice that Sandy's thoughts were italicized? If you are unsure of the formatting tags and how to use them, please visit that portion of the Help Section for a demonstration.

Writing inner monologues is not difficult— follow the same guidelines for dialogue. Does the thought have a purpose, or is it just "in there?" Everything you write should be striving towards a better plot, detail, characterization, or setting. Try to avoid inserting random comments that are disconnected from your plotline; you will confuse and potentially alienate readers. Keep internal arguments to a minimum. They are difficult for readers to follow. It's okay to say, for example, to use the following:

Sandy sighed, arguing with herself mentally before agreeing to go to the ball. I can't believe I'm doing this, she thought as she waved goodbye.

This gets across the same message as writing a long argument Sandy has with herself, and allows you to move on with your plot. Now, you may want to have the character speak aloud if he or she is alone. That's fine, but follow the same guideline: keep the self-argument to a minimum. Here's Sandy's argument as spoken dialogue:

Sandy kept turning Lee's invitation over in her mind. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she said under her breath, pushing herself out of the chair to meet him as he walked up.

Inner monologues and internal dialogue can be very useful and effective in getting something across in your story, but it’s also rather tricky, so don’t hesitate to contact a moderator with specific questions.

Formatting:

Proper formatting is essential to readers being able to understand your writing. Below is a chart of common mistakes.

 Correct Incorrect
"I didn't do it," said Fred indignantly.

[Note that there is only ONE space between the quotation mark and the first letter of the next word in the correct response.]

"I didn't do it."  Said Fred indignantly.
"Did you do it, George?" asked Fred under his breath.

[Note that there is only ONE space between the quotation mark and the first letter of the next word in the correct response.]

"Did you do it, George," asked Fred under his breath?

"Did you do it, George," Asked Fred under his breath?

"Did you do it, George?" Asked Fred under his breath.
"No, because I thought," George said, "that you were going to."

[Note that there is only one space separating "George said," on each side.]

"No, because I thought," George said.  "That you were going to."

"No, because I thought," George said, "That you were going to."
Fred whispered, "Well, somebody did it."

[Note that there is only one space after the comma.]

Fred whispered.  "Well, somebody did it."
"I didn't do it!" roared George.

[Note that there is no comma and that "roared" is not capitalized.]

"I didn't do it," roared George!

"I didn't do it!"  Roared George.

Said is Dead!

Let’s face it: “said” is one of the most overused words in the English language. Many writers find the urge to use “said” after every quotation very tempting. Of course, there is nothing technically wrong with doing so, but it makes a story both tedious and boring to read.

As common as this “mistake” is, it is very easy to fix. There are dozens of other words you can use in your writing that convey not only that a quote is being said, but also how it is being said, thereby simultaneously fortifying the quality of your story. Here is a small list of alternatives. There are plenty of others out there you can use— use your thesaurus [or the synonyms feature on Microsoft Word] to find the best word for your dialogue. Just make sure you know what the word means— not all of these words are interchangeable— and remember to choose the best for your character and the dialogue being spoken.

ACCUSED ADDED ADMITTED ADVISED
AGREED ANNOUNCED ANSWERED ARGUED
ASKED ASSERTED ASSURED BABBLED
BARKED BEGGED BELLOWED BLURTED
BOASTED BOOMED BRAGGED BREATHED
CACKLED CALLED CHANTED CHATTERED
CHIMED CHIRPED CHUCKLED CHOKED
COMMANDED COMPLIMENTED COMPLAINED CONSOLED
CONTINUED CORRECTED CRACKED CRIED
DEBATED DECLARED DECLINED DEDUCED
DEFERRED DEMANDED DENIED DENOUNCED
DESCRIBED DICTATED DIRECTED DIVULGED
DRAWLED ECHOED EMPHASIZED ENCOURAGED
EXCLAIMED EXPLAINED EXPLODED GASPED
GIGGLED GOSSIPED GRINNED GROANED
GROWLED GRUMBLED GRUNTED HESITATED
HISSED HOLLERED HOWLED HUMMED
IMPLIED INDICATED INSISTED INSTRUCTED
INTERJECTED INTERRUPTED INVITED JOKED
JUSTIFIED LAUGHED LIED MAINTAINED
MENTIONED MIMICKED MOANED MOUTHED
MUMBLED MUTTERED NAGGED NOTED
OBJECTED OBSERVED ORDERED PANTED
PERSISTED PIPED PLEADED PRATTLED
PREACHED PREDICTED PROCLAIMED PRONOUNCED
PROPOSED PROTESTED QUERIED QUESTIONED
QUIPPED QUIZZED QUOTED RANTED
REASONED RECALLED RECITED REFUSED
RELATED RELAYED REFLECTED REMARKED
REMINDED REPEATED REPORTED RESPONDED
RESTATED RETORTED ROARED SCOFFED
SCOLDED SCREAMED SCREECHED SHOUTED
SHRIEKED SIGHED SNAPPED SNARLED
SNIFFED SNORTED SOBBED SPECULATED
SPOKE SPUTTERED SQUEAKED SQUEALED
STAMMERED STATED STRESSED STUTTERED
SUGGESTED TEASED THANKED THOUGHT
TOLD URGED UTTERED VOICED
WAILED WEPT WHIMPERED WHINED
WHISPERED WONDERED YAWNED YELLED
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