Do You Let Your Dialogue Do The Talking?


Bring Your Story to Life
I’ve never met a fiction author who hasn’t wanted the reader to get completely lost in the words he put on the page (for a writer there’s no better feeling). You want the reader to suspend his disbelief.

As every writer knows (or soon learns), it’s important for readers to know who’s actually talking in any given scene. Obviously, it’s dialogue that tells us what people say and hints at what they do not. It actually goes a step further … and encourages readers to supply their own take on how the spoken words are exchanged.

In other words, dialogue brings a story to life. A writer who cannot make characters talk, and have their conversations require us to listen, has a story that is less than perfect.

In the ever-present writer’s world of “oh shit, did I just screw that up?” every good fiction writer quickly learns there’s nothing as terrible as stiff, unrealistic dialogue to pull a reader right out of the story.

You never want that to happen … but it isn’t always the words your characters speak that create the difficulty. Often it’s the way you describe them.

Dialogue Tags are Often the Problem
When dialogue happens in your story, you want the focus to be on the conversation. You don’t want readers to get distracted by the tag. Dialogue tags are not the place to get creative. You want the reader to pass right over them, as if they’re not there.

If you’re smart, that is.

That’s because dialogue tags exist for only one purpose: to identify for the reader who is speaking at any given time in your manuscript.

That’s it.

Yet, this is one of the most common mistakes new writers make. First, they overuse them. It’s almost as if they think every statement has to have an attribution … as if who was speaking in some of them wasn’t totally obvious.

Worse, some newbies think simple words like asked or said are boring or repetitive, so they will wrack their brains trying to come up with more interesting alternatives.

C’mon … it’s OK to smile … you know you’ve done it. I have, too.

But dialogue tags are not the place to get fancy. Dialogue tags should melt into the background. “Said” and “asked” are usually all you need.

However, repeating those tags after every portion of every verbal exchange gets a bit tiresome.

Worse, by doing so you run the very real risk of driving readers right out of your story … a cardinal sin … since it may even make them decide not to finish reading at all.

The Whole Truth
Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for the new writer to use adverbs in their dialogue tags, too. Which is sad, because that’s guaranteed to take the reader out of the story. Stephen King, a writer who knows how to tell a story, is famously quoted as saying “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.” So is the road to a clunky story.

When you’re telling them what happens, rather than letting them see it for themselves, they’re never really in the story.

If you think you need an adverb to convey emotion, your scene probably needs to be re-written so the character’s dialogue and actions more clearly express it.

It’s the difference between telling and showing.

An Example
“I’ve had enough,” Richard said angrily.

That tells us Richard is angry … but that emotion isn’t demonstrated at all through his actions or the dialogue itself. Adding the adverb angrily doesn’t do it, either.

If you want the reader to feel Richard’s anger, you have to show them through the dialogue itself. Here’s how you might do it:

“You disgust me. This conversation is over,” Richard said.

Here, Richard’s words themselves are angry, so you don’t need to rely on the adverb to convey it. The dialogue is stronger and the emotion is clear. You could also include some brief actions or descriptions to eliminate the adverb and better convey the character’s emotion.

Richard shoved back his chair and slammed his fist on the table. “I’ve had enough,” he said, clenching his jaw. “This discussion is over.”

The actions and description here show how Richard feels, so you can easily eliminate the adverb and stop telling the action.

Let the reader into your story by showing it to him.

Make sense? Try it.

The Official Book Trailer for “Street Light” 


I’ll be at a book-signing event at the Sterling Heights (Michigan) Public Library on Saturday, July 25. Stop on by. Click here for a map.

By the way, a couple of new reviews just came in for my latest novel, “Street Light.” One is from Top Book Reviewers and the other is posted on both Goodreads and Readers Favorite. I’ll let them speak for themselves.


My books have garnered some terrific reviews. You can see the stories I have available by using the Amazon link below.

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You’re also invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or like my Book of Face page. You can also follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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2 Responses to “Do You Let Your Dialogue Do The Talking?”

  1. Ron Herron Says:

    Thanks for passing it on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. TJs Author Central Says:

    Reblogged this on TJ Talks Writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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