Q&A: Quotations versus Dialogue

Q: I have literally hundreds of quotes in my autobiography, and after reading your post about them, I’m really confused. Most of what I’m writing about is not quoting a known source like Mark Twain. Rather, it’s in the form of he said, “blah, blah, blah” when I’m relating a story or incident. I don’t …

Em Dashes in Dialogue

Last time, we looked at using ellipses in your dialogue. Up next: em dashes. ☐ Punctuation such as em dashes and ellipses are used correctly. The em dash—it looks like this—is used to indicate a break of thought or speech. It can be used parenthetically, as in the previous sentence, or singly, for example if …

Using Ellipses in Dialogue

Punctuation is hard to master in everyday writing. Fiction adds a layer of complexity because of the different way dialogue is punctuated. As if commas weren’t hard enough to wrangle on their own, dialogue puts a special twist on a couple of marks that don’t otherwise see a lot of use. ☐ Punctuation such as …

Use dialogue tags wisely

Dialogue tags seem simple, but in practice they are a complex element that many new writers fail to appreciate. One characteristic that distinguishes great writing from good writing is the efficient and elegant use of dialogue tags. ☐ Dialogue tags convey meaningful information, such as action beats. One of the first things writers learn is …

Characters speak like real people

New writers’ manuscripts are often marked by unrealistic dialogue. Many things can go wrong in characters’ speech, but this is one of the biggest. If the characters’ conversations sound fake, readers will drop out quickly. ☐ Conversations are natural and realistic. When I say natural, I refer partly to the idea, mentioned last week, that …

Simplify dialogue tags

The way writers tag dialog is often evidence of how experienced they are. New writers frequently make dialog tags more complicated than they need to me. The classic example is the flagrant use of “said bookisms,” those awkward constructions reminiscent of Tom Swift. “I love Old Faithful,” she gushed. Such constructions are usually misguided attempts …

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