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Monday, February 09, 2009

Dialogue Checklist for Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Editing dialogue could garner enough information by itself to warrant a whole book on the subject, but since most people only want a quick checklist, I'll try and stick to one blog post.

  • Is this section of dialogue essential to the story? If so, it should do one of the following: Advance the Plot, Reveal Character, or Reflect a Theme.

  • Does your dialogue sound like real life speech or spoken narrative? When people talk, they speak in phrases and their sentences do not always include proper verbs, sentence structure and grammar.

  • Does your character's voice match his/her gender, age, time period, culture, and occupation? A race car driver isn't likely to discuss sonnets by Shakespeare or mathematical equations. A teenager in 1810 won't be saying things like "cool" and "geez". A Scottish or Irish man will probably refer to his daughter as "lass" not "girl". These are just a few examples of what you might consider when editing dialogue.

  • What kind of words should your character use that would show his/her personality? For example, in Back to the Future, the professor would always say, "Great Scots!" when he was excited, surprised or upset. In Gone with the Wind, when Scarlett O'Hara wanted to dismiss someone's warning, she would say, "Oh, fiddle dee dee!"

  • Have you used appropriate action tags between dialogue? It should show your characters doing something while they talk, not just state that they've said something. Example: "My drawings have always given me inspiration." Betty picked up her cup and sipped her tea.

  • Did you limit the number of creative tags that tell the reader how to interpret the dialogue that is said rather than showing it? Example: He replied, She cried, He pouted, She groaned, etc.


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