Today we’ll look at more tips for using dialogue in your memoir—because crafting it correctly is so important. (If you missed Thursday’s post, click on Are you using dialogue the right way in your memoir?)
Place quotation marks around the words people speak. (Put your silent thoughts—inner dialogue—in italics, not quotation marks.)
Use simple dialogue tags (he said, she asked) rather than bigger words like he bellowed or she whined or he scolded or she demanded. Using fancy tags instead of simple ones will distract readers—they’ll draw attention to the tags rather than the spoken words. Keep the focus on dialogue rather than tags. (For more on this topic, including examples, read this fun post, A Critical DON’T for Writing Dialogue, by Joe Bunting.)
Delete adverbs and adjectives with your dialogue tags, such as he said arrogantly or she said bitterly.
In general, if the dialogue is only one sentence long, place the tag at the end of it.
Victoria Costello offers this advice: “If you insert a tag between two or more sentences, the tag always goes after the first sentence” (The Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir). For example, compare these two:
“There are many ways of breaking a heart. Stories were full of hearts broken by love,” said Pearl S. Buck, “but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream—whatever that dream might be.”
This is the better way: “There are many ways of breaking a heart,” said Pearl S. Buck. “Stories were full of hearts broken by love, but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream—whatever that dream might be.”
Each time a different person speaks, start a new paragraph.
If two people are in a long conversation, not every line of dialogue needs a tag—as long as readers know which character is speaking. To help readers keep track, occasionally include the speaker’s action. For example, the following has no tag but the reader knows who spoke:
“I must go.” Anne stood, threw her scarf around her neck, and turned toward the door.
Here’s another look at crafting dialogue without a tag, based on an example from Joe Bunting’s post. He encourages writers to: “…show…emotion with an action. Like this: ‘I hate you,’
she exclaimed she said, hurling her French book at him. The
corner struck him just under his eye. A bright red mark began to rise on his
Notice two things: (a) Joe changed “she exclaimed” to “she said,” which is good, but (b) Joe could have deleted “she said” altogether. Then the dialogue would look like this:
“‘I hate you.’ She hurled her French book at him….”
I like that better. Do you?
Look over your manuscripts,
study the way you’ve crafted dialogue,
and make revisions.
Your readers will thank you.