Dialogue is one of those tricky things that can make or break your book. When I’m picking out a book in the bookstore, I always skim a passage of dialogue to help me gage if the writer’s good or not and therefore if the book will be worth reading.

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In doing this, I've found some rumors writers must believe about dialogue. Luckily, there are alternatives that can make your dialogue shine.

1. Use “said”

Rumor: Writers should mix up tag lines with words like “asked,” “exclaimed,” “spit,” and “whispered.”

Secret: The word “said” is your best friend. Use it mercilessly. While those other words have their place in the dictionary, let them stay in that big book on the shelf. In your book, they slow down readers and break up the pacing of the scene you’ve tried so hard to create. Don’t do that to yourself. Use said.

2. Eliminate “ums”

Rumor: Characters are actual people. (Deep breath, it’s gonna be ok).

Secret: This is actually good news. The number of incomplete sentences, sentence fragments, and filler words are used in real-life conversation is alarming.

Since your characters aren't actual people, they can be wittier, more concise, and more eloquent than real people. In fact, they should be. Periodically your characters can hedge and fumble words but overall, they should speak smoothly.

3. Don’t use names

Rumor: Characters addressing each other by name creates intimacy.

Secret: No, it doesn’t.

Rather than intensifying the moment, it actually cheapens the scene. It reminds readers that your characters are not real people. Don’t reveal yourself to them like that.

If two characters of the same gender are involved in the scene, making names vital for clarity’s sake, use the name in the tag line (of course, accompanied with your favorite word “said.”)

How do you judge if the dialogue is good?


Write a scene where two characters talk about Mother’s Day. Of course, post it in the comments and give feedback on a few other practices.

Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.

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