5 Dialogue Mistakes You Need to Address Immediately

5 Dialogue Mistakes You Need to Address Immediately

By on Sep 19, 2016 in Fiction, Writing & Editing

Writers either love or hate writing dialogue, because it seems easy in theory, but it’s also very easy to make mistakes that disrupt the flow of the story, and have a negative effect on your story and your writing in general. The mistakes presented below are not rules that have been broken, but are simply ways of writing dialogue that have a negative on the aesthetics of your writing. The role of dialogue in your story is not to show the characters talking, but it also needs to convey action, to bring the characters to life and most of all, be relevant and advance the plot. So if you find yourself making some of the following mistakes, you need to analyze your writing thoroughly and discover ways to improve it.

1. Every character sounds the same

This is the easiest mistake to make. Even if your characters sound different to you, they might sound the same way to the readers. In fact, if you need to use dialogue tags all of the time, chances are your characters are not distinguishable by the way they speak. They use the same phrases, the same ways of expressing themselves, and there is nothing unique in their speech to indicate that they are different people. You can address this mistake by characterization. Instead of going along and writing the dialogue, stop and decide which characters will do the talking, and how to make sure that their manner of speaking represents each character in a specific way, and makes them stand out as a character.

2. Every character speaks formally

In real life, we make mistakes when we speak, especially if we are in a rush, or excited, or have had something happen to us that has affected us. So, instead of saying:

“Marlee and I went to the cinema,” we might say, “Me and Marlee,” instead.

Even now, the second example sounds better because we hear it so much in our everyday lives that when we come across dialogue that’s too formal, we are instantly put off. When it comes to dialogue, speaking formally can be character trait, something that will distinguish one character from another, but if all characters speak that way, it begins to sound unnatural and forced.

3. Filler dialogue and cluttered dialogue

Filler dialogue is dialogue that is unnecessary. It does not advance the plot, it does not show action, and it is completely irrelevant to the overall story. A very good example of this is greeting. Greeting is unnecessary, unless there is a reason why one character refuses to greet the other, or greets them enthusiastically. On the other hand, we have cluttered dialogue, which is the kind of dialogue where the conversation between the characters is broken up by long narrative passages or descriptions.  Of course, dialogue should not be dry and not interspersed with a comment here and there, but the comments should not become descriptive paragraphs that disrupt the flow of the characters’ conversation.

4. Having obtrusive dialogue tags

Some writers think that the words ‘said,’ ‘asked’ and ‘answered,’ or ‘replied’ should not be used as dialogue tags, because they are so invisible and convey nothing more than who said what. However, obtrusive dialogue tags might convey action, but they do not convey it in a realistic way. For example,

“I don’t know,” she sighed.

The above is very common, but have you ever heard a person sigh and speak at the same time? The sigh either came before or after the words were spoken, but there are other obtrusive dialogue tags that have an even bigger negative effect.

“You should not do that,” she opined.

Now, from the context of the sentence we can tell that the speaker is sharing her opinion. But the word opined stays with us, because it’s so different. When we tell a story about an event from our lives to another person, we don’t convey dialogue with obtrusive dialogue tags. We say ‘he said, she said,’ and leave it at that. In writing, the invisible dialogue tags ensure that the story is not interrupted and that the action is conveyed properly.

5. Overusing the characters’ names

When more than two people are talking, it is okay to use the characters’ names in dialogue, when it feels natural and when one of them addresses another person directly, and not the group as a whole. On the other hand, when two people are talking, if they keep using each other’s names, it begins to sound and feel forced and unnatural. For example:

“What will we do, Marrion?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Amy,” she answered.

“But Marrion, we need to leave..”

The first usage of the character’s name, in our case Marrion, is okay, but the second and third is unnecessary. First, we (should) know that Amy is the one who is speaking, because of the usage of the first person point of view (assuming her name has been established previously in the novel) and the third usage is also unnecessary because we already know who is talking. Just keep it natural. Pay attention in real life how often you use people’s names in conversation and why. That way, you can use characters’ names in dialogue in ways that are natural and have a good impact on the dialogue and the story.

Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.


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