There’s an Att for That: Writing Effective Dialogue

For the last several years a debate has raged amongst writers: Should writers replace all dialogue attributions or tags with action or other complete sentences?
Writing Tip for Today: Effective dialogue sounds like real speech, but it isn’t. That is, no inconsequential banter or chit-chat. Characters should only speak words which propel the story forward. And about those “atts:”

  • Simple Said. If you decide to use an attribution or tag, stick to “said.” Avoid bending over backwards to come up with creative tags–reading, “he postulated” or worse, “she ejaculated” is ineffective and marks a writer as amateur.
  • Beyond Radiohead. Writing long passages of nothing but dialogue results in talking heads. You want your scenes to be more like a movie than a radio show.
  • Paint the Picture. By inserting action beats or inner thoughts and emotions around the dialogue, you accomplish two things: Identify the speaker and give the reader a more complete picture of the scene.
  • No Encyclo-info Loading. Resist the urge to dump into your character’s mouth info or technical explanations that sound like Wikipedia. Nobody talks like this.
  • Rule of Three. If a character speaks three lines of dialogue, insert a beat an att or let another character speak. Otherwise it’s a speech.

Happy dialogue writing!

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “There’s an Att for That: Writing Effective Dialogue

  1. You give very helpful hints in every post. I’m combining your last two posts, writing an angry letter to my main character and having her respond in dialogue. I’m anxious to hear what she has to say.

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