Thursday, May 15, 2014

Writing Dialogue that Breathes by Debby Mayne

Debby Mayne
Dora here. Last week Debby Mayne offered a great starting point for Writing Dialogue that Breathes. If you missed it, you can read the full version hereThis week she's wrapping it up with three more tips. Enjoy! ~Dora

One of the key components to a successful story is dialogue, so spend some time working on improving the skill of writing it. Most newbie fiction authors struggle with dialogue at first, but after you find the groove, you'll look forward to the next conversation between your characters. I've judged quite a few writing competitions, and one of the things that I look for is compelling dialogue. In my opinion, strong dialogue is the foundation of a compelling, character-driven story. 

Dialogue tags have been beaten to death, and I'm going to give them one more flogging here. If you can avoid using "he blurted," "she hissed," and other such dialogue tags, then by all means do so. Most of the time, you don't have to use any tags if you can show who is speaking through action. Here's an example: Samantha picked up her fork, stared at her plate in disgust, and sighed. "I hate peas." You know that Samantha is talking based on the action. It's fine to use an occasional "she said" or "he asked" if you must, but don't overdo it.

Punctuation and Paragraphing
Punctuation and dialogue paragraphing were designed to prevent confusion in the written word. Learn proper use of quotation marks, periods, commas question marks, and other punctuation. Otherwise, you'll lose your readers. Each time a different person speaks, start a new paragraph. Yes, this is proper, even for single-word grunts. When I judge a contest that has several people speaking in the same paragraph, I view this as work from someone who didn't bother learning the craft. After you practice proper punctuation and paragraphing, it will become second nature, and you won't even think about it.

Read Your Work Aloud
One of the best ways to make sure your dialogue sounds natural and comes across the way you intend is to read it aloud. I do this any time I write long conversations between my characters or have sections where I'm not sure of how it will "sound" to the reader. I'm sure my husband thinks he lives with a crazy person, but he's used to it by now.

Purchase Link
Dixie Belle and Uptown Belles series Blurb 
In Dixie Belle, book one of the Uptown Belles series, sparks fly when Cissy Hillwood arrives in New York City from her Alabama hometown and meets her uncle’s fiercest competitor.
SERIES DESCRIPTION: In this fish-out-of-water contemporary romance series, three Southern belles living and working in New York City develop a friendship based on their fondness and homesickness for the South. Although they’re different from each other in many ways, they share a love for the South and faith in Christ. And they each fall victim to Cupid, one at a time and when they least expect it. At least they have each other for venting, laughing with, and…shopping.

Debby Mayne has published more than 30 books and novellas, 400 print short stories and articles, more than 1,000 web articles, and a slew of devotions for women. She has also worked as managing editor of a national health magazine, product information writer for HSN, a creative writing instructor for Long Ridge Writers Group, and a copy editor and proofreader for several book publishers. For the past eight years, she has judged the Writers Digest Annual Competition, Short-Short Contest, and Self-Published Book Competition. Three of Debby’s books have been top ten favorites by the Heartsong Presents book club. Love Finds You in Treasure Island, Florida received 4-1/2 stars and was named a "Top Pick" by Romantic Times Magazine. Her latest book, Dixie Belle, is the first in the Uptown Belles series published by Charisma House.


  1. Good info, Debbie. One of the things that confuses me sometimes is having a paragraph with thoughts and actions from one POV and then a line of dialog from that SAME character. Does it go in the same paragraph--tacked at the end, start a new line, or does it just depend?

  2. Thanks for the info about tags, Debby. Those and descriptive beats (or action beats?) always confused me.

    When I write, I "hear" the movie in my head, so it's all dialogue. Translating that into a story on the page can be hard sometimes, but this really helped. Thanks so much!

  3. Sandra,
    I think it just depends. If you have a long paragraph with thoughts and actions, you'll probably want to start a new paragraph for dialogue. However, if the thoughts are just a few words, you can keep it in the same paragraph. I'm not sure there are hard and fast rules, but the key is to make it enjoyable for the reader and avoid confusion.

    1. That's pretty much the way I've always looked at it, Debby. So it's good there's no hard and fast rule. Thanks!

  4. You packed a lot into these two posts, Debby. I can always use the reminders, especially on reading it aloud.

    I appreciate your visit today. Moving days are always jam-packed with stress, so the fact that you took time out of your day to stop in means a lot. Thank you, and enjoy your new house! :)

  5. Excellent hints and reminders, Debby. In fact, you got me laughing out loud...sad to say, I judged a contest entry not long ago where the writer had the hero "bark." several times. I had to gently critique that he wasn't a dog...that said, early in my RWA membership, one speaker handed out an entire page of speech tags. I'm sure "barked" was one of them. But one of my first editors (and among the best) really hammered home about using action instead, and if you must, the said and asked is okay. I once in a while whine about using a "he drawled" as my heroes are always cowboys, and I generally get to do so once a book LOL when it really fits the scene..

    Your advice to read dialogue aloud is the best. I really despise long, massive sentences of speech. No matter how perfectly and correctly written they are, nobody talks like that.

  6. Debby - I've really enjoyed your two posts. I've also learned a great deal.

    One of the tags I've seen used several times lately is chortled. Jars me out of a story every time. Probably just because I don't care for the word.

    Again, thanks for the fantastic posts!

  7. Great info here, and I especially like the tip about reading it aloud. If you can't get through it verbally a reader will probably struggle to read it too. So much great info here, Debby!


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