Dialog Tips & Tricks
‘ve got a present for you,” he said, drawing his gun.
A big part about communication is nonverbal. Action can add layers of meaning to your character’s words, and even completely change the meaning. Describing gestures, facial expression and posture can show the relationship between two characters, indicate irony or sarcasm, and add subtle nuances of meaning to otherwise drab dialog.
If your characters don’t really mean what they’re saying, you can show us through a visual.
David handed Rick a photo of his new girlfriend. Rick’s face puckered like he was sucking on a lemon. “Oh, she’s really sexy!” he said.
Action can also show us the relationship between characters. For example: Rachel’s mother dies, and two people try to comfort her. The first puts his arm around her, and the second mumbles and stares at the floor. Why? The first character is her brother, and the second is a friend, embarrassed at seeing her in the shower the previous day.
“My dialog is terrible,” he grumbled ungraciously.
Said, said, said, said, said! When you write a long story, eventually you get sick of writing “said.” If you hate the word so much, your readers must hate it, too. Right? When you write a long story, you type “said” dozens, even hundreds of times. If you’re like me, after a while you just get sick of writing the word. If you hate the word so much, your readers must hate it, too. Right? Not necessarily. Most people barely notice it. To your reader, it’s almost like punctuation.
Alternatives to “said” are fine, within limits. At most, you should use three to a page. Any more than that, and they can become distracting. The more creative your alternatives, the more distracting they can become. Words like “yelled,” “whispered,” and “called” can be used much more often than “groused,” “breathed,” or “chanted.”
The same thing goes for dialog describers, those words that tell you how a line was delivered. “Softly,” “sadly,” “shyly,” and so on. Used sparingly, they can be a great addition to your dialog. But too much, and they become a crutch. You shouldn’t rely on dialog describers to carry a scene. You’re not writing a play. You want your readers to be able to see the scene, not just hear it. I’ll show you what I mean.