Dialogue—the things people say.
Something for me to overcome about dialogue was having everyone sound alike, and most often like me. The way we treat speech of course, has a lot to do with the age we are writing for. As Nancy instructed me, little children need dialogue tags more often than older ones. Even writing for adults we have to remember the speaker’s identification isn’t naturally known to the reader as easily to the author. And there’s nothing wrong with the good old “said.”
I knew a fellow who collected all kinds of tags so he would never have to say plain said. He was very creative, to say the least, but I could picture editors squirming in their seats on reading some of them. Now and then a “grumbled,” or “whispered,” fits into the story well.
We don’t have to be boringly consistent in the way we present the tags, unless we’re writing a story on the order of The Little Red Hen. Remember? “Who will stir the batter?” asked the Little Red Hen. “I won’t,” said the cat. “I won’t,” said the mouse. “I won’t,” said the rat. “Then I will have to do it myself,” said the Little Red Hen.
We can try a simple reverse in the order of speech tag:
“Who took the sports page from the paper?” Dad asked.
Ryan stuffed a blueberry pancake into his mouth. “Not me.”
And then there’s the italics for thoughts: Uh-oh. Could that have been what I lined the cat box with?
Sometimes we think dialogue means dialect. That certainly tags the speaker, unless there are more of the same in the room. Like the cowboy: “Howdy ma’am; yup, nope.” The Vermonter: “Ayuh.” Amish: “Wunderbar!” or North Dakota: “Uff da!” Some authors do a good job of dialect, but I think books are getting more away from that. A little of it sprinkled now and then is interesting, I think.
Working at dialogue can be fun, and rewarding when critique friends compliment you on natural, interesting speech.
-contributed by Shirley Shibley