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How to write dialogue that slays

Dialogue: it can make or break your manuscript. You can write the most beautiful, sprawling environmental descriptions; sell the heck out of your main character's voice; and come up with a metaphor so perfect, your reader weeps with recognition. But if your dialogue falls flat, all of that will be for naught.

Fear not! The editors at Angelella Editorial have come up with some dialogue do's and don'ts to help you with your NaNoWriMo revisions (and a handy-dandy downloadable infographic with all this info at the bottom of the page).

1. Cut the small talk.

Dialogue such as "Hi, how are you?" "Good, how are you?" does not move the story forward and therefore slows the pacing of your scene. Cut the exchange of pleasantries, summarizing these aspects of the exchange in a single line beforehand if necessary, and get to the good stuff!

2. No info-dumping, please. Dialogue is a great way to communicate information to the reader, but it should always be authentic to your characters. If two siblings are discussing their mother, for example, having one of them say, "As you know, Mom started drinking after Dad died," is a huge no-no. Why would the characters say something out loud that they both already know? This is clearly the author trying to get information across to the reader.

3. Indirect is best. Make use of subtext and indirect dialogue! Saying exactly what you mean is rarely something that we do, and it takes away potential tension in your scene.

4. It's all about the he said/she said/they said.

Very rarely should you be using dialogue tags other than he/she/they "said" or "says." Why? First, because the dialogue itself, combined with your characters' physicality, should be doing the work for you, not the tag. And second, because "said" is a word that becomes white noise on the page, which places the emphasis where it belongs: on the dialogue itself.

5. Avoid talking heads. Be sure to avoid "talking head syndrome," something that occurs when characters are doing nothing but speaking. Balance the scene by incorporating your characters' physicality, inner monologue, and environment.

6. Avoid direct address. For some reason, we have a tendency to make our characters address each other by name A LOT in dialogue. Be sure to cut out as many instances of this as possible.

Check out the infographic, and you can download it here.

Kate is a full-time freelance editor and writer who likes to critique dialogue in books, movies, and TV shows...much to her husband's chagrin. Kate is available for editing or author coaching. Find out more about Kate here.

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