The author S.A. Joo's Writing & Editing Advice & Tips

A professional Editor and YA Writer, represented by Black Hawk Literary Agency.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

3 Types of Dialogues and 2 Types of Tags

In my opinion, dialogue is the trickiest part of creative writing. Some writers may think that dialogue is the easiest part of fiction because all one has to do is to make them sound "natural." Yes, realistic dialogue is important. However, every dialogue   must be essential to the story, show conflicts/tensions, and give voice to each character. Of course, there has to be a good balance of narration and dialogue, but I can’t help but feel that it’s the dialogue that shows the voice of authors and their characters.
First, let me go over the different types of dialogue. There are internal, buried, and spoken dialogues. Here are very simple and easy to understand examples.
Internal: These are inner thoughts often italicized. 
The wind was freezing. Crap, it’s cold! She shuddered. 
Buried: These are inner thoughts not italicized and mixed with narration. "Could it be colder today? Why does it have to be so windy?" is the buried dialogue in the example below. 
The wind was freezing. Could it be colder today? Why does it have to be so windy? She frowned. 
Spoken: This is the most common type of speech in fiction. 
“It’s cold!” she said. 
There’s another thing to remember when writing dialogues. Don’t have all three types of dialogue mixed within a paragraph of narration. Tread carefully, especially with buried dialogues. They often end up being redundant, unnecessary thoughts. Dialogues, regardless of their types, are best represented when they stand alone, accompanied only by a dialogue tag or an action tag.
So that leads me to dialogue tags and action tags. Every writer must know how to distinguish between the two and know their purposes. Dialogue tags are linking verbs that connect the dialogue to the rest of the sentence. Their main purpose is to identify the speaker though readers should be able to distinguish between the characters by what they say and what they do, not by the dialogue tags. If you have to explain who's speaking and what their emotions are, you're doing too much “telling.” Same as action tags. Just a simple description of the character’s movements is all it is. Here are simple examples. Mind the punctuation.  
Dialogue Tag: “It’s cold,” she said.
Action Tag: “It’s cold.” She shuddered. 
Another point. There's no need to make dialogue grammatically perfect. Real people don't talk like robots with an English degree. The speech pattern should mimic human, not textbooks, or you may end up sounding as dry and clinical as the directions on a medicine bottle. 
Example: "I should have been the one to deliver the package to whom it was intended for, but I did not have the time." This is soooo wrong, especially if the character is a 21-year-old college student who just forgot to drop off a book. Get me?
Last but not least....I am repeating myself here. Avoid redundant and telling (summarizing) dialogue tags. Words such as exclaimed, retorted, replied aren’t necessary if the dialogue itself can convey them. Also, avoid the adverbs (“ly” words) such as angrily, sarcastically, slowly, which just tell the emotions instead of showing them though actions and or descriptions. And if your dialogue has to be longer than a paragraph, please break it up with actions and/or descriptions. Real people pause to take a breath, blink, or even move. Your characters should, too.
In conclusion, writers must learn how to write dialogues properly. Remember. They’re not space fillers nor are the just a garnish to your story. In fact, in most cases, it’s the dialogue that carry the story. Good luck~ 

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  1. Su. You are very smart and I enjoy the way you can explain your points. I also learn a lot from you so thanks for the tips.

    I don't always agree with all you say but I think that's okay, too.

    Making a book readable for the reader is what it's all about for an author or editor.

    Great post!

  2. Other than a few problems with some of my early characters sounding the same I like to think I have this problem almost under wraps. Of course that being said what I think and what others think are rarely the same thing.
    Thanks for the tips, keep em coming!

  3. Great post, and rather ironic. I was corrected on some thoughtless boo boo's between thought and dialog tags. *blush* It was the first draft at least, and happened only three times. heehee.

  4. Thanks for your comments. Remember. Dialogues drive the story, not only narration. Make them realistic and effective. Good luck with yours~

  5. I like to use the She shuddered.“It’s cold.” style of dialogue, and have to watch I don't over do it.

    A tip I heard on the radio. Readers don't see 'he said'. They register it subconsciously but don't let it interrupt the flow of their reading. Thinking about it, I think I agree and use lots of he said, she said, and not much else. I try not to add adverbs to the saying verb (she said excitedly).

  6. Great post about defining Dialogues. As you said this is what drives the story. Am right now reading Bakhtin`s The dialogic imagination... I hope it will help further in understanding everything

  7. Thankz a lot helped me a lot in defining the Dialogues !! And i wont forget it helps to drive the story !! ;) ^_^