Reading Excuses - 3/5/18 - mrwizard70 - Dialogue Practice

7 posts in this topic

I made comments in the Google doc.

From your email, you say: "I have yet to settle on a single story idea, so I don't need any story advice at the moment. I'm pretty much just writing down whatever comes to mind and trying to make it into working dialogue."

My comments may not be much help then. The story didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but I didn't notice too much wrong with the dialogue, except there weren't a lot of (any?) dialogue tags. I think you still got across who was speaking, except at the very beginning. I was confused as to what was going on until you started explaining.

If you want some variation, I'd just take some of the paragraphs and break them out a little, adding some things like

"X," I said. I did Y.


I did this, but said, "X."


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Hello and welcome to RE! 

I think with your question, what you are detecting in the dialogue is the repetitive nature of the placement of the dialogue markers (where there are markers). One way of addressing this issue is by adding dialogue tags, moving the tags around in the spoken part of the dialogue, and by placing more focus on the indirect conversation and body language, instead of straight spoken replies. 


Dialogue tags (she said, she asked, etc) can go before the spoken text:

she said, "I'm going to be a psionic wrestling star when I grow up!" 


In the middle of the the spoken text:

"That velociraptor," he said, "sure can catch a frisbee."


And after the spoken text:
"Less banter, more running," she said.


A lot of the dialogue in this piece seems to be using action sentences in place of dialogue tags (when there's any reference to who's speaking at all), and from what I can tell, the speech-identifying action sentences seem to be coming before the spoken dialogue. Overuse of dialogue tags can get repetitive, yes, but underuse can be just as problematic. I feel like the action sentences are trying to compensate for the missing dialogue tags and not quite making it, and even in this short piece, the lack is causing some reading fatigue. 

There are all sorts of webpages and rules lists and tips for writing dialogue and when to use tags, but really, it comes down to one's "reading ear" to know what is right for that particular piece. 

That said, here are a couple of things I turned up with a quick search that might help give you some ideas for ways to mix things up a bit:

Dialogue Tags: What Are They and How To Use Them -- This is a nice one that also talks about the said/said-adjective debate. (For the record I'm pro-judicious-adjective use. I like variety in my words, but too many gets distracting.)

How to Write Dialogue for Narratives -- This is a short one with a good part about indirect dialogue, or using body language to convey the meaning instead of the spoken words. 

He Said, She Said: Dialog Tags and Using Them Effectively -- This is a longer one talking about narrative in dialogue in general, but also touches on tagging issues as well. 

I think adding some actual dialogue tags to this piece will take some of the weight off of the action sentences and make the narrative flow a bit better. Using actions in place of tags is a fine thing to do, as is leaving pieces of spoken text un-tagged when the identity of the speaker is clear from the surrounding text, but the trick is not to get caught in a rut and use one or two techniques for everything. 

As you said this was an exercise more than a story, I'll hold off on critiqing that part of it.  Hope this helps! 


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Welcome to RE!

Unsure how best to help, and @industrialistDragon has thoroughly covered what I thought might also be helpful. I agree that varying the dialogue tags will help quite a bit, as will making sure you include them more often than not. Keep at it!


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Oh goody, a Word file! I will email you back some inline comments.

  • If he is a professor, he should not be addressed as ‘Mr.’, I think. Then again, people do make mistakes; so, if it’s in dialogue, that seems okay to me.
  • Since I don’t know the context, I will refrain from commenting on the number of children.
  • I thought that the POV might be O’M, because of the way the whispers seemed to affect them, but I see it is not.
  • I love the phrase ‘Magical Business’, cool. My daughter studied Fashion Business at college, so it struck a chord with me.
  • “as it began to mist, water forming into droplets just in time to run into me” – what began to mist? I presume you mean the weather, but it’d not explained, which is a little confusing.
  • The narrative is a bit all over the place. One second we’re talking about the weather, then T, then the weather again. Is Taylor O’M’s Christian name? I don’t think that’s clear. The problem with the rain, I think, is that there is no context for the setting. We don’t know whether we are inside out outside; does the sky look like rain, etc.
  • Yep, I'm finding the narrative quite off-putting. Chopping between subjects like that ruins the flow, imo.
  • Is the MC male or female. It’s not clear to me, and their name doesn’t prove one way or another.
  • “That lie held up till I was outside his door” – nice line.
  • “he would be unable to hear or ignore me” – this doesn’t make sense to me; these are opposites, surely.
  • “dashing my hopes and dreams against the threshing floor” – I don’t understand the strength of feeling here. I’m not sure what’s driving this emotion. Is it a romantic infatuation? Otherwise, I feel it’s a bit over the top.
  • If the pit opens in the protagonist’s stomach, how does it cast light from the room outwards? I know it’s a metaphor, but metaphor’s should retain some sort of internal logic, I think.
  • “I was breathing like a blown horse” – I beg your pardon? I don’t know what this means.
  • “No room at the prestigious Einstein School of Magic for a man who loves his family” – For me, this sort of implies he’s being kicked out because of his family, or his love for them. That makes little sense to me. Did I miss something?
  • “They, no, that, they can’t- you’re- you’re you!” – How old is this person? They’ve been at the school for at least a year, but can’t string two words together. I struggle to believe this.
  • Why would the daughters go into debt? I don’t understand the problem here. Presumably he gets paid for being a teacher?
  • “This cruel, brutal world would not let me change” – The MC’s motivation seems to be largely selfish. I'm just not understanding their need to help this person.
  • “A world where the promise of magic was a lie, and children were bought and sold under the table because magic was power” – Eh? Sorry, don’t follow.
  • “but I had proved to my parents’ grave that I was a bird” – A bird? I don’t understand.

My main problem is that I don’t care for either of the characters or their situation. I don’t know what O’M is being fired for, but either way, I don’t have any sympathy with someone who thinks having eleven children is a good idea.

I struggle to follow the logic of the protagonist’s thought process, and don’t really understand what horrible evil their parents have wrought in setting him up for life.


Thanks for submitting. I think this needs quite a bit of work, mainly in terms of clarity of the plot and a logical through-line. I might be able to like the main character more if I understood and therefore sympathised with their goals, but at present, I’m struggling to decode that.

I hope you have another go at this. I would be interested to read it after you consider addressing the comments that you get on the forum.



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Okay, I've read your post now (I like to read submissions 'clean', without preconceptions, so, sorry for that!) :) 

I hear what you say about practising dialogue, but, if you're not bothered about the story, you're not likely to be particularly engaged in making the dialogue as good as it can (and should) be. I have to say I think that showed in how the story / background lacked direction, and therefore led to problems in the dialogue--for me anyway.

To be honest, if you're using this as a means to learn how to write dialogue, I think you only way you will get good at that is of you are invested in the the story of the scene, even if it is only one scene. Another thing, for me, before dialogue; setting; plot; background; magic system; and anything else, you need compelling and interesting characters: characters you believe in enough to write good dialogue for.

Second; I think you need a clear and preferably simple situation for them to talk around. If the reader is confused by trying to work out what is going on, they will be distracted from the dialogue. If you're still practising, I would keep everything else simple, so you can put all efforts into the dialogue and making it fresh, original and impactful. In the same vein, making the blocking clear; i.e. where is this taking place, what are the surroundings and how are the characters placed in the setting, and interacting with it.

I hope this is of some use.


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I definitely agree with moving around the tags for dialogue that will definitely spice up the flavor of writing, but don't forget that not everything is just said. They're mumbled, shrieked, stuttered, they have different tones so something might be said but it's said bitterly, add an adverb to describe the way something is said. If you don't add any tags, there's no way for a reader to know this. Hope this was helpful, and it is something I've struggled with myself. I feel a lot that I use the same tags and am trying to branch out more on different adjectives and adverbs to use. 


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