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Dialogue tip: Make it clear who is talking

Posted by Maria Murnane | January 25, 2016

Good dialogue can bring your characters to life and engage your readers by making them feel immersed in the fantasy world you’ve created. On the flip side, poorly constructed dialogue can break the magical spell of the story. When I’m reading a conversation between two or more characters and lose track of who is talking, I get confused and frustrated. And when I’m confused and frustrated, I’m not enjoying the book.

To make it clear who is talking without overusing “said,” you can use a combination of beats and attribution. For example, here’s a conversation among three characters:

John glanced around the party. “Do you think she’s going to come?” (Glanced around the party is a beat.)

Jeff shrugged and took a sip of his beer. “God knows I’ve given up trying to figure that girl out.” (Shrugged and took a sip of his beer is a beat.)

“Hey now, don’t be mean,” Shana said. “Maybe she’s just running late.”

“Speak of the devil, look who just walked in. Six o’clock,” Jeff said.

John stiffened. “Can I look without embarrassing myself?” (John stiffened is a beat)

Shana giggled and squeezed John’s shoulder. “I love how nervous you are. It’s cute.” (Shana giggled and squeezed John’s shoulder is a beat.)

The above combination of attribution and beats makes it clear who is talking without overusing “said.” Plus the use of beats shows us how the characters are feeling without telling us. (See my post on show vs. tell if you’re not familiar with the concept.)

You want your readers to lose themselves in your story, and dialogue is a wonderful way to let them do it. Provide them with a seamless experience, and you’re well on your way!

-Maria

 

 

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2015 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

 

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One Response to “Dialogue tip: Make it clear who is talking”

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  • Carole Avila says:

    It took me a long time to figure out that the “beats” (action tags) went before the dialogue and “said” (dialogue tags) went after the dialogue. I wish I knew this ages ago. Books are so much more pleasant to read when written more clearly, and the attribution and beats definitely will make a difference. I appreciate you sharing this valuable information!
    ~Carole Avila

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