D – Dialog

My A to Z Challenge theme is teaching you how not to write a book, or a short story, or any piece of creative writing whatsoever. For more information, including links to previous chapters and lessons, please refer to this post. Now buckle in and proceed with…

THE WORST ROMANCE NOVEL EVER WRITTEN IN 26 DAYS.


PANDORA’S TACKLEBOX

Billionaire Highlander cowboy Hawk MacHardcastle is tired of living the jetset life of champagne, bucking broncos, kilts, fast cars, and burning bundles of cash for warmth. Desperate to find meaning in his life, he retires to his family’s isolated cabin in the wilds of New Jersey, on the shores of majestic Lake Latrine.

There, Hawk plans on self-reflection and pursuing the great love of his life—fishing. However, Hawk’s self-imposed loneliness comes to an end when he makes a most unusual companion and fishing buddy.

Dropsy Velvet was once a young woman living on the shores of Lake Latrine with her settler family. However, a curse turned her into a mermaid and now she lives, sad and alone, in the depths of the lake. She hasn’t had human contact for close to fifty years, thanks to everyone either being terrified of her or thinking they’re drunk when they see her—but Hawk may be the connection to the world she’s been craving. Charmed by her innocent face, sparkling wit, and huge bare breasts, Hawk decides to help her find a way to lift the curse, as she will lift his: the curse of ennui and affluenza. But time is running out, for something sinister wants to flush Latrine away forever.


Dialog

“You’re a mermaid?” Hawk asked.

“Yes,” she said. She lifted her great shimmering tail out of the water and slapped it back down, splashing him.

“I’m not just drunk?” he asked. He looked at the two bottles in his chair’s cupholders. Usually, it took a full keg just to give him a buzz, because his body was so ripped and full of testosterone.

“No,” she said.

“I didn’t know there were mermaids in the Latrine,” he said.

“Just one mermaid.” She sighed.

“How did you get in there?” he asked.

“I was cursed…cursed by an evil witch to spend my days in this form,” she said.

“A witch?” He gasped. “There’s witches around here too?” Everything he knew about Latrine was a lie, apparently.

“There used to be one around here,” she said. “They now say she hides in the forest.”

“Is she a hippy?” he asked. “How does she survive in the forest?”

“Her magic is ancient and powerful,” she said. “I fear one day she will emerge and take me as her captive, forever.”

He narrowed his eyes and puffed out his chest. “Not on my watch,” he said.


WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED HERE?

Good dialog is a beautiful thing. It can break up chunks of text that would otherwise make a reader’s eyes glaze over. It can move the story forward. It can tell you a lot about the characters, their emotions, and their motivations. When each character has a distinct and effortless voice, dialog is juicy and interesting, like overhearing gossip.

What can ruin dialog? As seen above, too many speech tags. ‘He said’ and ‘she said’ or ‘he/she asked, sighed, yelped, screamed, or ejaculated’ makes dialog choppy and awkward. If characters are distinct enough, there’s spots where you don’t even need speech tags, because the reader will know who is speaking. Also, combining actions with speech is a much more effective way of indicating who is speaking and the prose flows better. For example, instead of writing: “I never met a real-life mermaid,” Hawk said. “I must be dreaming.” A better example is: “I never met a real-life mermaid.” Hawk gazed at her in wonder, unable to tear his eyes away from her succulent dorsal fin. “I must be dreaming.” This not only makes the dialog smoother, but tells you something about the characters, as well. Like how a mermaid with a dorsal fin sounds much cooler than a regular old mermaid.

Make your dialog sound like people having a conversation, not like robots beeping back and forth.

60 thoughts on “D – Dialog

  1. I love your explanations!

    Like

  2. I was lucky I had an English professor for 2 years in a row, when I was studying Shakespearan prose (not kidding).
    He said, if there are two people talking, you shouldn’t need tags. Words in their dialog will hint at “who has their gums flapping.”
    When there are more than two, that’s when you need to get creative.
    Dear Megan, you certainly are that and more!!

    Sir Leprechaunrabbit 🍀🐰
    @leprchaunrabbit
    yourrootsareshowingdearie.wordpress.com

    Like

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad my lessons are agreed upon by English professors everywhere! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This will be so very helpful to me. I know tags are awkward and have struggled to shed them in my articles. The story was ridiculously funny 😀

    Like

    1. I’m glad it’s both helpful AND entertaining for you! Thank you!

      Like

  4. “Amazing!” Sue replied, raising her hands and widening her eyes.
    “What is amazing?” Megan asked, confused.
    “I can’t believe you pointed this out!” Sue exclaimed happily.
    “Why is that?” Megan continued, questioningly.
    “Because I think I do this very thing!” Sue concluded, triumphantly. “I’ve read about it everywhere, but only now does it become clear!”

    Sue Hernandez
    WordPress Blog: Learning to Write and A-to-Z Challenge (#965)

    Like

    1. Hee hee hee! This made me laugh! 😀 Thank you SO much!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love that! “Not like robots beeping back and forth.” There have been times that it felt just that way.

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    1. Indeed! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for stopping by!

      Like

  6. Agreed. Another beginner’s mistake that I see is when the author names the person talking too frequently or not enough. It’s a balance. Great advice!

    Like

    1. Yes! That’s another thing that can be very distracting. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  7. This made me laugh so hard. I want so badly to read this story.

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    1. Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying it! 😀

      Like

  8. Mermaids? Did you write mermaids? Just a note to say this lovely story made me laugh out loud. Maybe it was the testosterone! Good reminders for action tags. Mermaids and cowboys — a great combination.

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    1. LOL thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  9. “Ah,” she said, “thanks for sharing your bit about dialogue.

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  10. I think a lot of it goes back to voice, as you said. As long as the characters are distinct, we can tell who’s talking without the tags, but in a general exchange of information or ideas, when any of a group could be speaking, the tags are needed.

    And I bet certain readers interpret voice easier than others, picking up on the differences in characters more than other readers. Just as some readers mostly skim along, eager to find out what happens next, while others take it word-by-word and see all the spelling and grammar errors.

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    1. I definitely agree with all of that. It gets kind of complicated when you’ve got a whole group of people talking.It gets quite a bit trickier.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

      1. And even one-on-one, I think some readers are going to pick up on the differences based on how invested they are in the characters and story. And others just won’t.

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  11. This is really getting people talking. And lots of fun. Can’t wait for E.

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    1. LOL it is, I’m pleased! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I think I got it right until beta readers get involved. Some say not enough, others say too much, and about the same page. It makes me think it’s subjective. I’ve read best sellers who need more in places, and some who overwhelm the text with tags. I’m trying to find a happy balance but it ain’t easy! 🙂

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    1. I agree, it’s hard to find a balance, and what makes one reader happy might put another reader off…writing is crazy like that!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  13. Good tips. I find myself using a lot of tags. I like the idea of making sure your characters have distinctive voices so that you don’t need them. As someone else said in a comment, this is a great series, well worth bookmarking to come back to again as reference.

    Cheers – Ellen | http://thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com/2016/04/d-is-for-ditch-bag-nancy-drew.html

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    1. I do too sometimes, but I try to weed some out when I go back and edit. And I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! Thanks for stopping by!

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  14. Too true but hard to do. Your writing is very witty. Thanks for the post.

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  15. Hawk MacHardcastle. Epic. I love this. I found you on the challenge. Now I have to book mark you. In case you may be interested, I’m part of the challenge over at http://www.StumbleStandFly.blogspot.com. I also have a picturebook blog for kid’s and inner kids at Ollie-Bug.com. Which based on your humor, you may like.

    See you tomorrow,
    Tom

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    1. Wonderful! I’ll stop by and visit today. Thank you very much.

      Like

  16. Excellent example of clunky dialogue.
    Yes, being ripped and full of testosterone is definitely the key to not getting drunk!

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

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    1. Duh! Hawk would know, he’s the mostly manly man that ever manned…or something.

      Thanks so much!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha ! LoL !!

        Like

  17. Thank you for such an awesome blog post. I found you on the A-Z challenge list and now I shall be following you to see what else you do with this.

    Ok that sounded less creepier in my head haha. Its still a really good post though

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    1. LOL not creepy at all! Thank you very much!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. And isn’t it beautiful how the mermaid tells her whole story to a stranger, right away, just like that, as if that was the most sensible thing to do? Right, this is a fantasy story, but it should still be realistic (er… yes I’ve just said that).

    I used to be like that with dialogue tags. Then a critique partner told me something that really came to a revelation to me: “You write as if you think your dialogues are not strong enough. They are. You dont’ need to spoonfeed readers about who’s speaking.”
    Good girl! 😉

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    Like

    1. Very good advice! I think it gets distracting when we’re reminded too often who is speaking. It makes you trip over the prose.

      And Hawk and Dropsy are destined for each other, duh. That’s why they tell each other their stories right away! 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

      1. Ah! Destined for each other. How dull of me not getting it straight away!

        Liked by 1 person

  19. On the dialogue tags! 👍

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  20. Great advice. And wow. For me, aside from the dialogue what threw me off was how he believed so fast that he was talking to a bona-fide mermaid. It’s their first meeting so there should be some denial or thinking he must be more drunk than he thought. It’d be more believable if he went along with his ‘hallucination’ and be shocked the next time he sees her (not having drunk anything) and realizing he was talking to a mermaid.

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    1. That’s what I was thinking myself. There are dialogues that are so eager to offer info-dump that they never think as how people really interact.

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      1. Sometimes I read my dialog out loud to myself to see if it flows like real speech. It’s a good tactic!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know, a lot of people suggest that. But – maybe because English isn’t my native language – it doesn’t seem to work very well for me.

          Like

    2. Hahaha, Hawk is a very trusting man, I suppose. It must be all that time spent in the Highlands and riding bucking broncos. He’s seen and done it all.😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

    3. Well behind the ripped and testosterone filled manly man, Hawk is as gullible as man can be and a true romantic at heart. Of course, the succulent dorsal fins would have given away too much in case the splash from the tail fins didn’t !

      Like

  21. The French do dialogue in such a weird way that English stories almost have too much information for me. Also, said and replied are the only two dialogue tags I don’t mind.

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    1. It’s a rarity I like something besides those two, either. Anything else is just distracting and pulls you out of the rhythm of the story.

      Like

  22. It’s a tough line to navigate, making sure the reader knows who is saying what and keeping the tags to a minimum.
    Sophie
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

    Like

    1. Definitely. Sometimes you have to go back and make sure several times that things are clear.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  23. Hmm, too many glaring mistakes here! Thankfully we don’t have such passages to answer to for ‘who said to whom’ like the kids have at school! Cheers,
    @KalaRavi16 from
    Relax-N-Rave

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    1. Ah, very true! I’m not sure I want to go back to those days!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Before now I’ve lost track of who is saying what to whom because a writer was too averse to putting ‘said’ in and the two speakers weren’t easy to tell apart. That’s why the voice is so very important, as you mentioned.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    Like

    1. Definitely! If the characters have a great voice, then it’s very easy to tell who is talking without any dialog tags.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  25. “I’m going to have to refer to these posts on a regular basis. Great advice!” Maneé said, feeling a little awkward as she typed her own name into the comment.

    Like

    1. LOL! I’m glad you’re enjoying them and thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. “Hawk gazed at her in wonder, unable to tear his eyes away from her succulent dorsal fin”. That is so surreal. Even otherwise, I find Hawk and Velvet, quite attractive characters and their dialogues just enhances their personalities ??!! Waiting for more !!

    Have you read my D for Dance yet? Would love your feedback !

    @Subhmohanty from
    And Life Unfolds…
    A to Z Challenge 2016
    A*Alone
    B*Butterfly
    C*Curry
    D*Dance

    Like

    1. Hahaha, they’re such ‘interesting’ characters, aren’t they? Thanks so much! And I will stop by!

      Liked by 1 person

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