Dialogue Tips from Marilyn Meredith

My guest blogger today is the prolific Marilyn Meredith, author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, and the Rocky Bluff PD series (as F.M. Meredith). She’s here today to talk about dialogue and give us some tips on how she makes her dialogue sound so normal and natural. Marilyn?


Though you want dialogue to be realistic sounding, don’t copy how we really talk such as: “Hello, how are you.” “I’m fine, and you?” Leave all this greeting stuff and comments about the weather out unless it is important to the plot.

Dialogue should do one of two things: Move the plot along or reveal character.

Said and asked are better than the multitude of other dialogue tags such as responded, agreed, etc.

Better still use the character’s action as a dialogue tag instead. “No way.” Dan pulled out his gun.

Or use description as a dialogue tag. Cynthia’s silk skirt swirled around her long legs. “Are you coming or not?”

Go easy on the exclamation points. If the dialogue is exclamatory enough, an exclamation point is unnecessary. An exclamation point should never be used in narrative. Elmore Leonard said, “Use only one exclamation point in a novel.”

Don’t ever have a character tell someone something that they already know to get information across. Maybe it is something that ought to be in narrative, but be careful of an information dump.

When writing, start a new paragraph every time a new person speaks or does something. This will help the reader follow what is going on.

Even if the conversation is between two people, if it goes on for long, put in a dialogue tag so that the reader knows who is talking. Of course, if there is a big difference in how each person speaks, this won’t be necessary.

For instance, if one person is educated, his grammar will be perfect. Another might use lots of clichés, or use poor grammar. If someone is from the south, he/she will speak differently than someone from New York. Another might not use complete sentences. Listen to people carefully (eavesdropping works) and watch for different speech patterns.

Never have one person speak for long periods of time—when we’re talking to one another, we interrupt, change the subject, etc.

Be sure that the reader knows where the dialogue is taking place. I’ve read too many books where I had no idea where the characters were having their conversation.

And my last tip, beware of talking heads. This means we need to see the characters and what they are doing while the conversation is going on. No one sits or stands perfectly still while talking—and this bring you back to the fact that you can use an action as a dialogue tag.

Phil scratched his head. “What do you expect me to do about it?”

Thanks for some great advice, Marilyn! I know I learned a lot today. What about you, readers? Any comments or questions for Marilyn?

Marilyn Meredith is the author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, and the Rocky Bluff P.D. series under the name F. M. Meredith. She taught writing for Writers Digest School for 10 years, and has given seminars and classes at various writing conferences and workshops all around the country and in Hawaii. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra in central California.

My latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery is Seldom Traveled.

The tranquility of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three.

My webpage: http://fictionfoyou.com

Blog post: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com

Amazon Page: Marilyn Meredith

Facebook: Marilyn Meredith

Twitter: marilynmeredith

My books are available in all the usual places.

About Susan Tuttle

Susan Tuttle is a professional freelance editor, writing instructor and multi-award winning author of 21 books—6 nonfiction on writing (Write It Right), 6 suspense novels and 7 collections of award-winning short stories. She also has stories in both volumes of "Deadlines", the new anthology from the Central Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinC), Tales from a Rocky Coast, and the SLO NightWriter anthology. Under the pen name Susan Grace O'Neill, she is the author of the Journey With Jesus series: Lord, Let Me Grow (Parables) vol. 1, and Lord, Let Me Walk (Lent). She is currently working on volume #2 of her Skylark P.I. series (a PI with paranormal abilities), as well as 2 YA fantasy series. And she teaches fiction writing in both the morning and afternoon every Wednesday. Email her if you're interested in joining her class. And follow her on Twitter and FaceBook.