Writing tips

9 Rules for better dialogue

One way to make your characters to be memorable, is to give them better dialogue.

One way to make your characters memorable, is to give them better dialogue. Click To Tweet

One way to make your characters memorable, is to give them better dialogue.

Dialogue is a key component to any fictional work. It serves many purposes:

  • Moves the story forward
  • Defines characters (background, cultures, etc)
  • Entertains
  • Sets mood, tone, time, and space
  • Adds tension
  • Adds conflict
  • Gives information
  • Controls pacing
  • Adds subtext (it’s not what they’re saying, it’s what they’re not saying)

Rules of dialogue:

  1. Start a new line with a new speaker.

    • Incorrect-“Where are you going?” Emil asked. “None of your business,” Zoe said.
  2. “Use double quotation marks” and make sure your quotation marks match.

    • Pick either curly or straight. The same goes for single quotation marks. (used when quoting someone inside a quote)
    • “Bob told me, ‘I hate my mother’ when I spoke to him last night,” Emily said.
  1. If one speaker is talking without interruption, use opening quotation marks “ at the beginning of each paragraph.

    • Use a closing quotation mark ” at the end of the speech or whenever it is interrupted by action or thought.
  2. Cut to the chase.

    • In real life, we greet each other and spend time on small talk, but it will bore your reader. Cut to the meat of the conversation.
  3. Cut out filler words: uh, ah, er, like, stammers.

    • Pretend you’re at a Toastmaster’s meeting. In other words, don’t write speech like we talk it.
  4. Don’t constantly use the other character’s names.

    • Otherwise known as the Bob & Emily drinking game from The Bob Newhart Show. I’m terrrrible at constantly having my characters use the other’s name. In my last edits of Red Riding Hood and the Lone Wolfe, I eliminated dozens of Olivers and Rosewyns. Bad me. The only time your character needs to use another’s name is if they’re trying to get their attention.

  5. Don’t use dialogue as an info dump, otherwise known as “You know, Bob…”

    • “You know, Bob, flying to Vegas will not hide us from Big Daddy Nelson, crime boss, who saw us witness the murder of two men in the alley behind your house in Detroit.”
    • Just don’t do it. Find another way to convey information to your reader.
    • For a examples of how to write better dialogue while conveying information, read this post.

  6. Give each character a different voice.

    • My word choices don’t sound like yours. Give your character a verbal crutch or word choices unique to him. In Red Riding Hood, Rosewyn is the village baker. Her speaking is not as refined as King Oliver’s.
  7. Minimize dialogue tags.

    • Use “said” and “asked”. People do not hiss words, nor do they laugh words. “Said” is invisible, and not always needed. In one 1800 word conversation in Red Riding Hood, I used “said” three times. Instead, I used action and thought. Go here for a list of 50 things your characters can do while talking.

Dialogue example using action, thought, different voices and no tags:

“I am a mess, aren’t I?” He returned the cloak and sketched a bow. “Many thanks, mistress.” He reached into a pocket, but came away with an empty palm. “I have no coin for you.”

Rosewyn’s eyes rounded. “I’d not take it. Can I not help those who do need it?”

“Again, my apologies.” He leaned down and picked up the basket she’d dropped when he fell. His eyebrows rose as he saw the bread and rolls inside, wrapped in flannel. “You’re a baker?”

Did he insult her craft? Rosewyn straightened, and ice entered her voice. “I’m the baker of Chissen Village.” As had been her ma, rest her soul, and gran afore her.

“I’ve not had decent bread in weeks.” His eyes looked like a puppy’s, big and begging.

“Take what you wish.” Her heart pounded. Could he hint any heavier? Did she have a choice? Refuse a gentleman? She’d have to scurry home and bake anew for her customers. Pray Goddess they’d understand.

“I’ve upset you again.” He returned her basket. “Can I not say anything without offending you?”

“You can say goodbye.” The words ran from her mouth before she could catch them.


(Example is from “Red Riding Hood and the Lone Wolfe”, to be released October 14th.)


Good dialogue habits:

  • Read dialogue aloud to avoid stilted speech and similar voices. If it sounds forced to your ears, how will it sound to your reader?
  • Keep dialogue tags to a minimum. Use thought and action instead.
  • Make sure you have opening and closing quotation marks. This is important if you, like me, play Jenga during editing. Editing programs like Grammarly and ProWritingAid will help catch any errors.
  • Not all dialogue has to be snappy like the screwball comedies of the 1930’s and ’40’s. Sometimes, silence is golden. A shake of the head, lips pursed in disapproval, lips pursed in a kiss, can say more than words.
When writing better dialogue, remember to make it flow. The words should draw in your reader.Click To Tweet

This post is part of October’s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn!

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

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Writing advice from a dieter's point of view. Great advice for writers and dieters.

Throwback Thursday

The following is a blog post from June, 2009. It’s great writing advice for writers and dieters, just as relevant now as it was then.

Advice for writers and dieters

Writing advice from a dieter's point of view. Advice for writers and dieters.Recently, while surfing the internet, I found some tips for maintaining a healthier lifestyle that could easily be applied to a healthier writing life style:

  • You can become whatever you envision. Yeah, that’s right. If you think like a best-selling author, you’ll draw more attention and success than if you believe you’ll always fail.
  • Claim your power. You know you have it, or why pursue writing for a career/hobby/something to get away?  Empower yourself with your talent and get to work.
  • Set your priorities. Write another scene or blog? Send out a query to an agent or an editor? Research your next work or edit your last scene? Without a clear path, you won’t make progress.
  • Get pushy with yourself. The book won’t write itself. If you think you’ll only have time for one page today, write two. Set your timer for fifteen minutes, turn off your inner editor, and push through, no stops, no looking up stuff, until the timer goes off. Then write another page.
  • Give yourself permission to succeed. Nothing makes me angrier than hearing a fellow writer talk about submitting, then hearing her follow it up with a self depreciating remark. Hey, if you’re going to write, then at least believe you’ll succeed at it. As Yoda said, “There is no try, there is only do.”
  • Give yourself permission to be awesome. Yes.You. You tell it to your kids everyday. Why treat yourself to a lesser attitude?
  • Become part of a circle. Whether it’s a writing group, a critique group or a good friend who’s not afraid to tell you when your story has strayed, find a foundation of support that will help you grow.

These tips were meant to help lose weight, but if they work to make you a better writer, so much the better.



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How do you kickstart your muse when you're stuck writing?

#Throwback Thursday

This post originally appeared October 25, 2009. None of the advice to kickstart your muse has lost its relevance. . .

I’m back from a weekend writing retreat and feeling recharged. It’s one thing to say “If I just had a chunk of time. . .” and actually sitting down and writing. I pushed through and finished my latest W.I.P.

How can you kickstart your muse?

How do you kickstart your muse when you're stuck writing?


  • Don’t get out of the habit of daily writing.  It’s easy to do. Life intrudes and “I’ll write tomorrow” can become a mantra. Instead, set your alarm for 10 minutes. You’ll be surprised how much you can write in that time and how much over the limit you’ll go.
  • Turn off your inner editor. Don’t search for the perfect word. I’m a fan of XXX. When in doubt for the best word, the name of that character in the 2nd chapter, or whatever it is that you’re stuck on, insert XXX. When you come back to it during your edits, it won’t seem as important.
  • Don’t reread what you’ve written. In preparation for this retreat, I printed off the last ten pages of what I’d written. I never looked at them. I started from the last sentence and pushed on from there.
  • Even if you think you’re writing dreck, it’s good dreck. Not every building can be the Taj Mahal. Sometimes you have to start with a straw hut and make a lot of improvements.

Now that my book is done, I have a week to go through it and make my first cut of edits. On Nov. 1st, I’m starting a new story. I won’t be shooting for the full 50,000 words, but I’ll be participating in my own version of NaNoWriMo http://www.nanowrimo.org/ and taking my own advice.

Happy writing!

****2017 Cheryl returning****I’m not sure which book I was stuck on as I don’t keep a book diary (bad me), but from the MSWord doc files I have stored, it might have been Tall, Dark and Slayer. Buy it here.

Thank you for joining me in the WayBack Machine.

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