I recently ran a workshop at Trowbridge Library, and would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to those who attended, you were great!

At the time I touched upon the subject of characterisation, and provided a character sheet with the suggestion that it might help to identify your characters personality and to think about consistency.

Interestingly, someone said that their characters will develop along with their personalities over time. If they are slipskins, aliens, or changelings, etc this might happen more easily. Sure personalities naturally develop over time and can be an immensely important part of the story – for example, someone might be feeling weak and grow through learning what went wrong and how they can improve. They ‘show’ how they are no longer weak, but stronger because of the trauma they have been through within the storyline. However, remember there must be some consistency so you instantly recognise the character rather than the reader having to work it out.

Dialogue can do this for you. You will know Harry Potter’s friend is instantly when he says: ‘bloody hell’ even if his name isn’t used. If you’re a Potter fan, you will know who I refer to.

Similarly. Nurse Ratchet – One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is instantly recognisable. My point? I recommend you don’t deviate too much, or you will lose the reader.

So to dialogue

When I find something I think worth sharing then I post it on my blog: and I am crediting Zara West with this and will add to the dialogue discussion over time.

If you are new at this then it would be a great way of starting out, testing the theory and see how your pages ‘flow, and moves the plot forward. I would be glad of your questions and comments.

‘Dialogue should play a major role in any story. Pages full of descriptive and narrative paragraphs are less enticing than hearing the characters speak for themselves in their own voices. Dialogue has an immediacy to it that is missing from all other kinds of writing. –

LG However, recently someone said they prefer descriptive prose over descriptive narrative. I think there needs to be a balance. This is tricky but of course you can do it. I invite you to read fiction and decide what made the story move forward.

Equally important, how did they write the dialogue.

Was it engaging.

Does it have too many: ‘eyes’ ‘nods’ ‘shrugs’ ‘sighs’ ‘throwing hands up in the air.’

I guess you get my drift? Sadly, if you’re not careful it is all too easy to fall into that trap. For me I get a tad irritated when I read a book with nothing more than the bog standard, ‘running his hands through his thick curly hair.’

I’m always baffled when the editor doesn’t pick up on it. All it takes is a gentle nudge, a reminder to the author they have got so engrossed in their story they have forgotten to edit out the mundane.  After all, you want your work to shine, not look like you’re so involved in the story you have forgotten the reader.

Anyway, back to dialogue:

‘Dialogue: Two or more people or characters tell each other something, or hide something from each other, or express emotions to others. It is speech written down.

In well-written dialogue, we can hear the voice of the speaker(s) in our head as we read. It allows us to infer the character’s emotions from what they say and how they say it, as we do in real-life conversations. It makes characters feel more real.

One way to address these problems is to use dialogue tags or beats and careful editing.

Name Dialogue Tags

The standard way of identifying the speaker in dialogue is to use a name tag. This is a short piece of information that identifies who is speaking. Such as Bob said or Magie whispered. The convention in modern writing is for the name to precede the verb and for the tag to follow the spoken words.

Obviously, in actual conversation, people don’t use name tags, and these types of tags can draw the reader out of your writing if you use them too much or make them too noticeable.

For this reason, said is the recommended verb to use for almost all dialogue tags as readers skim over it. An occasional whisper, murmur, or asked are acceptable. But avoid stronger verbs. The reader should be able to tell from what the character says or behaves how they are speaking. Also, if you are considering making an audio recording of your story, the use of said makes the dialogue less intimate.

In fact, in most cases, you don’t need name tags at all. Try removing as many saids, asks, and so on as possible from your draft.

That doesn’t mean you still don’t need to identify who is speaking. See if you can substitute any of the tag ideas that follow.

Action Dialogue Tags

Rather than a said or asked, consider showing who and how the character is speaking by their actions. A big advantage of action tags is that the name can come before the dialogue, which can’t be done with said. Here are a set of examples that show how the same words take on distinct tones depending on the character’s actions.

Bob slammed his fist on the table. “Don’t leave.”

Bob ran his hand down her arm. “Don’t leave.”

Bob shuffled the papers. “Don’t leave.”

Note: Avoid overusing simple, oft-repeated action tags like nod or glance.

Action tags can also show the detail setting through the interaction of the character with the objects in it and through their movements in it.


Carol slammed the chicken-coop door closed. “No way will that fox get my chickens again.”

Myki stepped out of the way of the child’s bicycle speeding by. “And when will you get you son under control?”’

I hope you find this useful! Thank you for reading and making kind comments rather than the scammers I seem to attract to this blog. I will do another stint on dialogue soon.

Secrets. Shame, and a Shoebox / The Twenty-One-Year Contract: mybook.to/twentyone

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