The 7 deadly sins of dialogue: how to write good dialogue by avoiding these common mistakes.

The 7 deadly sins of dialogue: how to write good dialogue by avoiding these common mistakes.

Dialogue can be the make-or-break element in a story. It can breathe life into characters, advance the plot, and provide insight into their psyche. But when done poorly, it can derail the flow and alienate readers. Let’s uncover the seven deadly sins of dialogue and how to sidestep them.

1. Sin of Exposition: The “As You Know” Syndrome Mistake: Characters tell each other things they both already know for the reader’s benefit. Example: “As you know, John, we’ve been best friends since kindergarten.” Solution: Show backstory through actions, internal thoughts, or organic, necessary dialogue. Trust the reader to connect the dots.

2. Sin of Monotony: The Unvarying Voice Mistake: All characters sound alike, lacking distinct voices. Example: Whether it’s a teenager, a grandmother, or a warrior from another galaxy, everyone speaks in the same tone and vocabulary. Solution: Develop a voice for each character based on their background, education, age, and personality. Read dialogue out loud to ensure each voice is distinct.

3. Sin of Artificiality: The Too-Formal Tone Mistake: Characters speak in an overly formal manner, using complete sentences and avoiding contractions. Example: “I will not go to the store until you have apologized to me.” Solution: Allow characters to speak naturally, using contractions and colloquialisms when appropriate.

4. Sin of Overuse: Dialogue as Filler Mistake: Relying on unnecessary dialogue that doesn’t serve the plot, character development, or mood. Example: Lengthy exchanges about mundane activities or obvious actions. Solution: Every dialogue should serve a purpose. Trim the fluff and ensure that conversations drive the story forward or deepen character relationships.

5. Sin of Repetition: The Echoing Effect Mistake: Characters repeat each other or themselves, leading to redundancy. Example: A: “It’s a hot day.” B: “Yes, a very hot day.” Solution: Avoid having characters reiterate information without purpose. Trust that your reader has grasped the information the first time.

6. Sin of Clarity: Ambiguous Tags and Actions Mistake: The reader loses track of who is speaking, or action tags interrupt the flow. Example: Lengthy stretches of dialogue without tags or using descriptive verbs instead of ‘said’. Solution: Use dialogue tags judiciously, and don’t fear the word ‘said’. It’s invisible to most readers. Additionally, integrate action beats to break up dialogue and give context.

7. Sin of Punctuation: Misplaced Quotation Marks and Tags Mistake: Incorrect punctuation disrupts the flow and can confuse the reader. Example: “I’m going to the store.” Said Jane. Solution: Familiarize yourself with the rules of punctuating dialogue. The correct version is: “I’m going to the store,” said Jane.

In Conclusion: Dialogue should be a mirror to real-life conversations, reflecting the character’s emotions, intentions, and relationships. By avoiding these seven deadly sins, you can craft dialogue that is engaging, authentic, and purposeful, drawing readers deeper into your narrative world. Remember, it’s not just about what your characters are saying—it’s about what they’re revealing.

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