Monday, August 17, 2015

5 Tips to Writing Dialogue by Tanya Miranda

Hi all! Today I get to welcome the amazing Tanya Miranda to my blog, where she talks about writing dialogue well. Take it away, Tanya. 

5 Tips to Writing Dialogue

#1 – Read your Dialogue out loud.

You have to feel the words coming out of your mouth in order to know if they sound real, if they sound like something an actual person would say. Say it as the scene requires it. If it's an argument, raise your volume and sharpen your tone. If it's gossip, whisper. If you are exasperated, change your inflection to match the range of emotion. You might change the dialogue as you speak, to feel more natural to the character and situation. Follow your instinct on this. Throw the grammar book out the window since most humans don't follow strict technical rules when speaking in real life.

Unless, of course, you are writing dialogue for an English professor character - then you're grammar has to be top notch!

#2 – Act out the scene.

In addition to speaking the words, act out the scene.  For example, in a fight scene, pretend the aggressor is about to throw a punch and duck to avoid getting hit. Stagger backwards as if you've lost your balance. Will you say, “James, I was only kidding.” or will you say, “For the love of Christ, James, I was only kidding!” Placing yourself at the scene (by pretending) will make the dialogue explode.

Sometimes, you will find that your dialogue doesn't work as you physically speak and act out the scene. Those clever line might not fit the adrenaline pumping through your veins as you imagine being punched in the face. It happens. It's alright to delete a scene altogether if it doesn't work, or rewrite it completely so that it feels realistic. That is why we're doing these exercises.  

#3 – Use body language beats.

Don't forget that people speak volumes with their body language. Reciting dialogue and acting out a scene will help define the body language accompanying the words. Hands hooked into hips, long eye rolls, shrugging shoulders, rubbing your eyes… use these body language beats in place of dialogue tags to add to the emotion.

For example, instead of this:

            I backed away and said, “For the love of Christ, James, I was only kidding!”

You write this:

            I backed away, balling my fists. “For the love of Christ, James, I was only kidding!”  

Is he preparing to fight back? Is he on the defense? You've added a layer of detail to the scene by including the character's body language in place of the dialogue tag, and the reader still knows who is speaking. 

#4 – Keep Dialogue tags simple.

Some writers are obsessed with too much usage of dialogue tags. The word “said” is one of those “invisible” words readers don't notice, until you add an adverb or a description. Too much “she said excitedly” or “he said with anger” distracts the reader from the actual words the characters are saying. When you find these, remove the adverb or description altogether and return the dialogue tag to its simplest form. In addition, either rewrite the dialogue or add body language beats that will help the reader feel the emotion.

For example, instead of this:

            “He proposed to her?” Karen said in a shocked tone.

You write this:

            “He proposed to her?” Karen's jaw dropped open.


            “There is no way he proposed to her!” Karen said.

You barely even noticed the word “said” there, right? That's because the dialogue is rich with emotion. You want your readers to feel Karen's shock in the beats and dialogue. You don't want to tell your readers she was shocked.

#5 – Avoid “ers”, “uhs”, and “ums”

Some people, uh, naturally speak with, er, these pauses, but, um, reading them is annoying. You may think it sounds realistic, and maybe it does, but … doesn't it sound annoying in real life? Just like it turns people off when they listen to this type of speech, it's likely to turn people off when they read it. 

There are a few exceptions, like when it gives away an emotional shift that is different than the normal tone of the character, or it is triggered by an event and may last for a scene or two. If you need to use it, use it sparingly, unless you want to create an annoying character.

Also, some writers use these to indicate a level of shyness or embarrassment in the character. I find that using body language beats to portray these traits is a better avenue to take.

For example, instead of this:

            Eric said, “She, um, dumped me for Kile.”

You write this:

            Eric shrugged his shoulders and glanced to the side. “She dumped me for Kile.”

It's cleaner and gives more information about how Eric feels while speaking. Also, if Eric has to tell another person his girlfriend dumped him for Kile, you can use a different beat to show off his shame instead of saying the same thing again with an “er” or an “um”. 

~ * ~

Tanya writes fantasy, sci-fi and a little romance. She loves running 5Ks though Braddock Park in North Bergen and playing softball and soccer with her kids. If you give her some Godiva, she'll be your best friend.

To connect with her, visit her blog at

Check out her latest release, The Box Of Souls, below!

~ * ~

Even the darkest magic can’t break the bonds of family.
18-year-old Jasmyn secretly resents her family’s preference for her 8-year-old sister Katarina. Her jealousy grows when her grandmother, a dying witch, overlooks Jasmyn and chooses Katarina to inherit her magic powers. Although being second-place to her sister is something Jasmyn has grown accustomed to, this rejection wounds her like no other.

When sinister dragons appear along the California coastline, Katarina tries to stop them, but her spells fail. Her family discovers it is because she didn’t inherit all of their grandmother’s magic and that her grandmother split her magic between the two sisters.

Now, Jasmyn and Katarina must work through their sibling rivalry to stop the menace. Can Jasmyn put her pain and resentment aside to wield her grandmother’s magic? The bond of sisterhood is strong, but so are powers of darkness.

Thanks for visiting Tanya! So, ladies and gents, what do you think of Tanya's dialogue tips? What's your favorite way to make dialogue work?


  1. Great tips. I also don't like it when people start off with "Well ..." I know some people do that, but it makes the reading of conversation so repetitive.

  2. Fantastic tips! I'm glad I have a quiet house when I start reading things out loud. I even do the accents!

  3. Really insightful, thanks for sharing!

  4. Awesome tips! Number 2 is great, but there's only so long you can carry out your own personal Fight Club before an ambulance or the police is called. ;)

  5. Thanks for hosting me Misha. This was fun to write up. :-D

  6. Can you imagine adding um and such to your manuscript? Bad enough when people say it in real life, let alone be forced to read it.

  7. These are excellent suggestions for writing dialog. I've been known to pace back and forth, muttering under my breath letting my characters "talk it out."

    I saw your book on Alex's blog and was taken not only by the cover but by the title. And now, to read the premise, sounds like a very interesting story! Congratulations, Tanya.

  8. Great tips! I follow all of them. I especially love to say dialogue aloud and to act out scenes. I do that all the time. :) Another thing that helps me is to use what I would say if I were my characters. It makes their dialogue realistic instead of me pretending to be someone else.

  9. Those are great tips! I too find it helpful to speak and act the dialog in my scenes.

  10. For #3 and 4 I give you two amens.


  11. Good dialog is essential and what you've set down here is excellent advice.

  12. Helpful post:)
    And what a great cover. Wishing you much success, Tanya.

    Hi, Misha.

  13. Thanks Everyone for the good wishes! :-D

    I've actually had to put down a couple of novels for the ums and ers in the dialog. One in particular had a great plot and I made it half way through until I had enough.

    Oh, and my daughter catches me muttering to myself every now and then. She knows I'm not crazy. I think... O_o

  14. All great advice! I know my dialogue greatly improved when my critique partner and I started reading our early drafts out loud to each other. It's amazing how something that sounds so right in your head sounds so unnatural out loud! Thanks for the great post!

  15. Awesome advice! I always read the dialogue out loud- but the tags can be trickier for me. I liked the examples used because they really help showcase the difference. :)

    Love your cover and wish you the best of luck, Tanya.

  16. Really awesome tips! :D
    Love your cover, Tanya! Best of luck!!!!

  17. Lots of good advice, with excellent examples. Though, I've never been able to read my writing out loud to myself. I'm too aware of my voice and what I'm doing that I can't focus on the story. It's weird, but maybe I need to try and get over that? Anyway, thanks Tanya and Misha!

  18. Super awesome advice, and I back every bit of it. I'm forever pushing people toward action vrs tags. Tags are annoying.

  19. Reading dialogue aloud can really help...although you do tend to feel like you're talking to yourself. I've found myself making expressions or doing different poses to see if I can accurately describe things!


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