How to mix dialogue and action in your writing
One of the biggest mistakes we see authors make in their manuscript is the writing of dialogue. It seems that a lot of authors think that writing dialogue is a binary thing: You talk, and only talk, or you don’t.
We often read things like the following example:
“I love you.” He said
“I know.” She said
This kind of writing grates our eyes and our ears. Not only does this make the text quite a boring read, it also is a sounds repetitive and is one of the obvious signs that the author is a novice. This is why it is important, that before you send out your manuscript to publishers, you try to mix your dialogue with action – and that this action is “show, don’t tell”!
So how would we improve the writing. Like this? :
“If you only knew the power of the dark side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” He belted.
“He told me enough! He told me you killed him.” Luke yelled
“No. I am your father.” Vader stated
Is this better? Nope.
I would even say it is worse. Although you are not as repetitive anymore, the words actually became distracting. A big no-no when sending off your manuscript to the publisher or agent. This will literally be one of the firs things they would want you to edit out.
But then how should you write your dialogue?
It is fairly simple: you mix your dialogue with action.
“How are you?” Anita asked nervously, sitting down on the big leather chair in front of the desk.
“Miserable, darling,” Cruella sighed, tapping her perfectly manicured nails onto the mahogany desk. “As usual, perfectly wretched.”
See? Much better!
So what are the rules of dialogue punctuation?
- Each speaker gets his or her own paragraph when the speaker changes.
- You can include internal thoughts, action, description etc in the speaker’s own paragraph
- You can interrupt the paragraph to put in “said” and then follow up with more dialogue.
- You can put the said tag at the beginning or end of the sentence
- Once you have established who is talking, you can drop the “said” tag
- You can add description of the character and their surroundings in order to orient them in time and space while talking
- You can reveal a lot about characterization through body language and action.
- You can add POV thoughts in the paragraph. This will be incredibly helpful, especially when they do not mean what they say.
- You can introduce pacing by strategically placing the “said” tag.