10 Worst Tips for Writing Dialogue
If you've read my work, you already know dialogue is my bread and butter. I love it! So when I see shitty dialogue advice floating around the internet, I take notice...in a big way. I’ve made a million videos about how to properly write dialogue, and I plan to make a million more. But today, I’m talking about the absolute worst dialogue advice I've seen around the internet. And let me tell you...it's bad.
A sneak peek: the eighth and ninth pieces of advice are the most common, unfortunately enough. And the last piece of advice is the most outrageous, and ridiculous, and ungodly, and every other horrible thing in this world.
Friendly reminder that this list is completely sarcastic! Please, please, please do not implement any of these tips. They are the worst! They're terrible. Don't do it! But these are actual tips that I have come across on the inter-webs, and it pains me that some people take them seriously.
Let's dive in, shall we?
The above video is sponsored by Milanote. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: New character, new voice
This is actually great advice. Every single character should have their own individual voice, but a lot of writers take this one step too far. Or 10 steps too far... And you know what? More power to them! Sure, everyone has a different voice, which means no two characters can share any traits at all! If one character is funny, they're the only one allowed to be funny, damn it! If one character cusses, they're the only one who gets to cuss. And if a character happens to tick more than one box, God help ‘em! Characters don't get to be layered. We're looking for one dimension only, and the dialogue needs to reflect that.
Number 2: All the same voice
I've seen a few writers, particularly newbies with an inflated sense of self-worth, spouting the idea that your writing voice needs to be reflected in all aspects of your story, including the dialogue. This is true when it comes to aspects like the amount of dialogue, the importance of dialogue, or the type of dialogue that your readers can expect. But the argument here is that your voice needs to be reflected in the dialogue itself, making every character's voice your voice.
It's always a great idea to write a self-insert. Why not write 20 of them? There are plenty of positives to writing your voice over and over again. First of all, it's easy. You always know what you're gonna write! Who cares if the readers can't determine one voice from the other? Who cares if the dialogue is repetitive and boring? And who cares if it's not remotely realistic, because people are fucking different and speak fucking differently...
Number 3: Follow all the writing rules
All of them! It's not like vernacular is a thing that exists. Look, you're writing a book. That means things like syntax and grammar matter. And last time I checked, every single person speaks with proper syntax and grammar at all times. What even is shorthand or slang? If it's a rule in your narrative, it's a rule in the dialogue. Period. Will the dialogue sound clunky and unnatural? Obviously. Will it completely strip your characters of their humanity? Of course! But
rules are rules, even if the dialogue is supposed to mirror actual speaking patterns. Minor technicality.
Number 4: Write ze accent!
Want to offend an entire nationality while simultaneously annoying the shit out of your readers? Well, have I got a solution for you! It's called writing out the accent instead of simply describing it in the narrative. You know, like an idiot. If your character has an accent typically based on race or region, it makes sense to describe the accent in the narrative so your readers can imagine how it would sound. It doesn't make sense to completely misspell all the words so your readers struggle to decipher bullshit dialogue until they get so frustrated that they throw the book at the wall and give you a one star review.
But that's what you're gonna do anyway! You don't wanna be logical or correct, and you certainly don't want to be polite. Who cares if people feel like you're turning their nationality into a caricature? You're an artist, and artists are allowed to be assholes. J.K. Rowling deemed it so!
Number 5: No cursing
“OMG, if your character curses, like, no one is going to read the book.”
No one in the real world cusses! It's not like curse words are common vernacular used in everyday life. This is a really easy issue to solve. Replace the swear words with equally powerful words. Like, for example: dummy, sissy, turkey brain, big baby, no good rotten doody head. These exclamations pack such a punch! They are perfect to shout in the middle of an argument, a heated battle, and especially a near-death experience. Who hasn't yelled “Gee golly gosh!” when they were fearing for their life? Look, I know curse words are realistic and relatable, but fiction isn't about relatability. It's making sure that your grandma can read what you wrote without damning you to hell.
Number 6: More cushion for the pushing
I've seen the advice that every single line of dialogue should be cushioned with narrative. Every, single line. Wow.
Don't get me wrong, in many cases narrative plus dialogue creates a visceral experience. Except when it doesn't. I've read books where every single line that a character speaks is punctuated with some kind of description or, God forbid, an info dump. Talk about drawing out a simple conversation for eons to the point where you can't even remember what they were discussing in the first place...
And you know what? That's my kind of storytelling! I want dialogue to move at a snail's pace. I want to lose track of the discussion at hand. I want to be lost in boredom and confusion. Please, by all means, interrupt this character building moment and give us some useless world building.
Number 7: Do not use the contractions
If you want to write a book, you should not use the contractions, even if a character is speaking human words. This is important if you are writing a character who speaks in a proper manner. For example, a princess. If you remove the contractions, they will sound like they are speaking Old English. You do not need to utilize actual Old English, because that would require work. When you remove the contractions, the dialogue is very good and it is very realistic. People speak in this way all of the time. It is a normal way to talk. There is nothing robotic about or clunky about it at all.
Number 8: Ejaculate
You know what makes dialogue even better? A fancy dialogue tag! Said is dead. No character should be ‘saying’ anything. They should be exclaiming, because the exclamation point didn't make that clear already. They should be replying, reporting, objecting, or wailing. That's what adds passion to the story, certainly not the characters, the plot, or the dialogue itself. I mean, really, if a character isn't ejaculating, are they even speaking at all? Use the most colorful dialogue tags out there. It'll showcase that you are for sure the best writer around...in the second grade...with access to a thesaurus.
Number 9: Always use a dialogue tag
Every single line of dialogue requires a tag at all times. So what if a reader can differentiate the characters based on their voice? So what if the tags slow the pacing of the conversation? So what if repetitive tags turn the conversation into a robotic mess? It's a rule, guys!
(Okay. Actual, real talk: who said you always have to use a dialogue tag? I'm genuinely curious. I see this advice all the time and I have no idea where it came from. It is so bad!)
Number 10: Don't write dialogue at all
Did you know there are actual writers giving this advice online?
“Dialogue is for amateurs. The pros just build worlds and plots and don't allow the characters to speak. Ever. At all. Period.”
Holy shit! I've seen writers trying to follow this advice, so they trim their dialogue down to two or three words, because those were the only words that were necessary. Never mind the fact that that particular character is known for being loquacious and dialogue is all about human speech and however that person fucking talks, because people actually...fucking...talk.
But no, you can't write dialogue. It cheapens the work. It makes it clear that you're not a real literary author. You're a genre author. And who wants to be a genre author? You write entertaining stories and you earn the most out of all fiction writers. Thank God you found me! I just saved you from a life of loyal readers and money!
So that's all I've got for you today!
Since there’s plenty of terrible, terrible writing advice floating around the internet, it’s important to know how to actually write strong dialogue. I recommend keeping character voices recognizable but reasonable, not being afraid to use contractions, and remembering that you don’t have to tag every...single...individual piece of dialogue. Above all, remember this list is sarcastic and isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Because at the end of the day, humor goes a long way!
What’s the worst dialogue advice you’ve ever read? Share it below and spare writers everywhere the pain of thinking it’s true!
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