I had a conversation with a first time story writer yesterday. She told me she has a problem with stopping shortly after she starts a story, then she never goes back to it. I asked her what was stopping her. She told me it was the dialogue. When I asked her what specifically about dialogue she was having issues with, she said it was difficult starting it and how to use it.
To be honest dialogue can be confusing to someone who has never written it. There are rules that apply. I’m only going to hit on one here. I went over this with her yesterday, and it cleared up so much for her.
Dialogue Tags—A phrase that precedes, breaks up, or follows dialogue and indicates who is speaking, how it is being delivered, and whether or not a new speaker is talking.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t necessarily have to use dialogue tags in each piece of dialogue. When there are two speakers, use a dialogue tag in the first two to four pieces of dialogue, then stop for the rest of the characters’ conversation. Trust me, the reader will be able to follow who is talking. But, to remind the reader of the order of who is speaking, add a dialogue tag or two somewhere in the middle of the conversation. Normally, two people in a dialogue speak every other piece of dialogue unless otherwise indicated. See example below:
“Let’s get cracking,” said Jack. “These leaves aren’t going to rake themselves.”
“Really? Do you have to be so bossy? I mean, there isn’t a whole lot to do here. Besides, mom said it was optional, and I choose to meet Kayla at the lake,” said Jim.
“Mom will appreciate it so get busy.”
Jack thrust his rake to the ground and stalked after his brother. Upon reaching him he grabbed for his shirt. (Indicator that disrupts the dialogue order of who is to speak next).
Jim spun to the right and watched his brother tumble to the ground. “That’ll teach you.” (We know it is Jim speaking here because this sentence is in his point of view at the moment. Therefore, no dialogue tag is needed).
Jack stood and glared at Jim. “You’re an idiot.”
“Maybe so. But at least I know how to have fun.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Jack wiping sweat off his brow. (Reminder of who is speaking next).
“Ever since dad died, all you do is work. You used to have fun. We used to hang out together.”
“Yeah, well things have to get done around here. Someone has to do it.”
As you can see in the example above, other indicators, other than dialogue tags, can indicate when someone is talking (But that’s for another blog post; you got a taste of it here). The idea is to make the dialogue between characters flow. You don’t want it to be choppy. So use the dialogue tags wisely. It takes practice. Also, next time you’re reading a work of fiction, pay attention to the dialogue tags and how the author uses them.