Writing Sharper Dialog

In the course of my writing journey, I have discovered 16 “rules” for strengthen dialog, and here I’ll share them with you. But remember — Rules are made to be broken — by their masters!

1. Cut chit-chat, greetings and polite phrases. Keep dialog lean and muscular.
2. Speakers are not articulate. Use vernacular, contractions, etc.
3. Make different speakers sound different.
4. Build dramatic tension with contrapuntal dialog. Each speaker has his own agenda, so the dialog is pulled in two different directions.
5. Don’t use one speaker’s dialog to advance the other speaker’s dialog. Example: “Tell me more.”
6. Don’t exceed 3 sentences of dialog per speaker. Exception, a lecture.
7. Don’t include direct exposition in dialog.
8. Use deflections and concealing phrases to disguise real meanings.
9. Tag should almost always be “said.” Do not invert, e.g., “said she.”
10. To avoid too many “said” tags, use an action (beat) to reveal who’s speaking. Example: Jane picked up the dog. “What’s your name?”
11. Don’t use modifiers to describe how someone speaks. Make the dialog better, or use an action. Example: “Are you okay?” he said with concern. V. “Are you okay?” He squeezed her hand.
12. Avoid misspellings to show someone’s accent – this might be viewed as demeaning. It’s also hard to read.
13. A dash – implies an interruption. An ellipsis … implies a fade-out.
14. Don’t overuse name reference. Example: “Jane, did you put out the trash?”
15. Avoid two characters speaking the same words in unison. It’s not believable.
16. Use foul language sparingly, or it loses its impact.