Dialogue, gives an example of weak, overstated dialogue: “Hello,” he croaked nervously, “my name’s Horace. What’s yours?” he asked with as much aplomb as he could muster. “Hi,” she squeaked uncertainly, turning in her chair to look at him. “I’m Gail Adams,” she said blushingly. “Pleased to meet you,” Horace declared. “I’ve been watching you for about an hour,” he offered with a quaver in his voice. Turco calls this an example of author intrusion—the reader is over-guided, and the illusion of reality is lost. Here are steps to avoid unbelievable dialogue:
- When giving dialogue attribution, generally use “said.” Occasionally you may use “added,” or “replied.” The “he said” and “she said” fall into the background—they guide the reader, but do not intrude.
- Sometimes tags (another word for attribution) aren’t needed at all. If the person speaking is already identified in the paragraph, you can eliminate tag, as in this example from my novel-in-progress:
- Allow the strength of writing to eliminate most adverbs, such as “nervously,” “uncertainly,” and “blushingly,” in Turco’s example. Your readers are smart! If you handle dialogue well, they will glean subtleties that are only implied on the page. You can show those same adverbs with body action, instead. For example, instead of “blushingly,” you could say, after the dialogue, Her face pinked up, or Her hands jumped to her face, now hot. Something like that.
- When you have a long stretch of dialogue, you don’t need to identify (tag, or attribute) who is speaking each time. Hopefully, each character has a unique way of talking that is identifiable. Include tags now and again, as in the example below #5.
- Start a new paragraph each time the dialogue switches to the other speaker.