She said WHAT? – 10 Helpful Hints for Writing Dialogue

It’s not hard to write dialogue, to put words between quotation marks, but to do so with the goal of moving the plot of the story along or convey the emotional needs of a particular character, can be challenging. Here are a few tips to get you over the hyperbole hump and onto the meat of the story.

Learn to LISTEN – yep! Eavesdrop! Actually, it’s harder than that  – try to notice inflections, accents, local slang, etc. in conversations between people.  You can do this just about anywhere… but if they start talking about burying a body, LEAVE QUICKLY, AVOIDING EYE CONTACT. (Unless it’s an author you know – then it’s just brainstorming.)

LEARN from your favorite authors – when you read, notice how what one character says to another reveals vulnerability and underlying motives, or moves the story forward.

LET IT FLOW – Just write it out. You can make it shine later. This is what’s in your head and your heart, so get it all out, then polish.

ACT IT OUT – If you’ve got a willing participant, try it out with a friend. If not, see above.

READ IT OUT LOUD – You may feel silly at first, but it does help. It shows you where words may feel stilted or unnecessary. Speaking of, when writing dialogue, you don’t even have to clarify the speaker each time. If Dick and Jane are the only ones in the room and they have established the “he said/she said” then let it flow without the extra clarifications unless it moves the story along.

LESS IS MORE – If you’ve already established the tone of the conversation, no need to beat it to death with adjectives every time a person speaks. To that end as well, no need to state the obvious, “He pulled out a chair and sat down as he put his hands in his pockets.” Okay. No need for “He put his hands in his pocket.” Unless, of course, he’s pulling out a gun.

WHEN TO SPEAK, AND WHEN TO STAY SILENT – I try to use these SPARINGLY. For example, when Mac enters Dixie’s hospital room in Whistlin’ Dixie, she could have simply said: “Get out.” Instead, she throws the bedpan at him. He replies, “Well, at least it was empty.” That’s a gem moment and one in which my readers still laugh over three years later.

DROP WORDS – Depending on the tone of the conversation and the characters speaking, it may be effective to shorten sentences and still retain the reader’s interest.

POV IS CRITICAL – And this is my #1 Problem with my own dialogue. I get so involved in the dialogue, I forget which POV the scene is in. So, after writing out what is demanding to get out of my head, I take a break, then reread it to make sure I’m still in the proper POV even though one or more people have contributed to the conversation. A fellow author even changes the color of the text to help her keep in proper POV.

USE PROPER PUNCTUATION! – It’s an easy and effective way to convey the tone of the scene as well as the temperament of the characters. If the scene calls for alarm (!) or confusion (?) it’s easy; but sometimes, it can be more difficult to discern the proper punctuation. In that case, I leave it to the professionals, my editors, because I’m not a punctuation Nazi, but they are.

And if you are still having trouble with the dialogue, ask another author or your Beta readers. Sometimes all it takes is a different way of speaking to open up a host of creative ideas.

This post is contributed as Guest post by maggie adams.

Maggie Adams is an Amazon Best Selling romance author. Her first book in the Tempered Steel Series, Whistlin’ Dixie, debuted in Amazon’s Top 100 for Women’s Fiction, humor, in November 2014. Since then, she has consistently made the Amazon bestseller 5-star list with her Tempered Steel Series.

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2 thoughts on “She said WHAT? – 10 Helpful Hints for Writing Dialogue

  1. Tom Gould Reply

    What I find works is if you have a character start a conversation you can keep the he said/she said method working until you introduce a new character into the conversation itself. Another method is if you refer to a character in a previous paragraph and it is the only male/female character mentioned you can also keep the method working.

    I hope that this has been a useful assessment. Please check out my book The Hartnetts at

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