1) Would the dialog be interesting enough for an eavesdropper to wonder about what is being said?
2) Let dialogue show the emotions.
3) Characters should talk to each other and not the reader.
4) Use "beats"* to show actions, define character, or vary the rhythm of the dialogue.
Ex: “Where are you going?” Jane looked up from the dishes.
“Where are you going?” Jane picked at the cloth napkin in her lap.
5) Resist the urge to explain the dialogue. (RUE) If you've written it well, there is no need to explain it in narrative.
Ex: “How could you do this to me?” The question in her voice tugged at his heart. (we already know by the words that she is distraught)
“How could you do this to me?” The single tear on her cheek tugged at his heart.
* Put name first.
Ex. Mark said, “Stop the car now.”
* Start a new paragraph with new speaker.
* Place punctuation inside end quote.
* Use a dash when conversation is interrupted.
Ex: “ What do you-“
* Use ellipses when words trail off.
Ex: “But this doesn’t…”
* Or for stammering/stuttering or gaps in dialogue.
Ex: “I th…th… think I c…c…can.”
“ Put the chair…” she pointed to the corner, “ over there.”
It's very easy to get stuck in the dialogue tag rut. I am the Queen of "she said, while (insert action here)."
The way to combat the "saids" is first to do a thesaurus search for synonyms. Pronounced, muttered, stated, offered, shouted, cried, screamed, whined, announced, declared, recited, indicated, admitted, and quite a few other words are all examples of dialogue tags you can use instead. You want your dialogue to show as much emotion as possible so the reader can really "hear" the words. Intersperse these with "saids" so the reader doesn't stop to analyze an unusual tag.
Another technique is the action tag. This removes the "saids" and puts an action in its place to show the reader what else is going on besides a bunch of talking. The action tag also helps show the emotion the character is experiencing.
EXAMPLE: "There's nothing there anyways," she said taking deep calming breaths of sea air.
TRY: "There's nothing there anyways." She took deep calming breaths… .
EXAMPLE: "I think it's psychosomatic," Jamie said, reaching out to catch a handful of spray from the bow of the ferry."
TRY: "I think it's psychosomatic." Jamie reached out, catching a handful…
This then begs the question: One or the other? I think a happy combination of the two is a good way to go. But remember, sometimes you can't avoid the, "I love you," she cried passionately.
Reprinted with permission of Patricia Tanner. Ms. Tanner is a multi-published author. Please connect with her on Facebook.