Dialogue is how your readers learn characters’ thoughts and sometimes their personality traits. You could have a quirky character who ends every sentence with, "ya see?" Or you could reveal backstory through dialogue.
Use dialogue to move your story forward, avoiding insignificant chatter. Your characters shouldn’t talk just to hear their voices. Your dialogue needs a purpose and strategy, unlike a lot of our real conversations.
The key to effective dialogue, though, is to manage your use of dialogue tags.
What is a dialogue tag?
A dialogue tag is a verb that refers the sentence to a specific speaker or character. The most common dialogue tags are said and asked.
In fact, using other dialogue tags like shouted or squealed will brand you as a novice. And it’s worse if you add an adverb.
Examples of dialogue tags to avoid
- "You never listen to me!" Janelle cried pitifully.
- "You never listen to me!" Janelle yodeled.
- "You never listen to me!" exclaimed Janelle reproachfully.
These are distracting and have little real value. Using dialogue tags and adverbs tells your reader what you want them to understand about your character instead of showing them.
Show readers through actions and dialogue
Instead, you should use dialogue with a character’s actions to move your story forward. If you want readers to learn more about Janelle and her situation, lose the dialogue tags.
- Janelle’s head drooped to let her bangs cover the sudden prickling of tears, and her voice dropped low. "You never listen to me."
The above show-don’t-tell version doesn’t use a dialogue tag, yet it’s clear who is speaking. And you learn more about Janelle from her actions.
If you want to make your editor and publisher happy, only use said or asked when it’s the only way to let the reader know who is speaking.
How to use ProWritingAid’s Dialogue Check
Dialogue is one of many areas where ProWritingAid can help your writing shine. With the simple click of a button, you can learn instantly what dialogue tags you’ve used and where to find them. This helps you determine if you’ve used appropriate tags, if you shown rather than told, and if it’s clear who’s speaking.
The Dialogue Check also calculates the percentage of your document that contains dialogue. Rarely do novels contain under 10% or over 80%. Somewhere in the middle is enough to move your readers along without boring them with too much narrative or inane chatter.
Use ProWritingAid’s Dialogue Check to help you use dialogue effectively. Like everything else in life, avoid too much or too little. And when you absolutely need to use a dialogue tag, stick with said or asked. If you've been using tags and adverbs to prop up dialogue, you may have bigger problems to work on.
Good thing there’s ProWritingAid to help you, right?