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What is dialogue, exactly? The definition from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary was several lines long, so I shall summarize it in a short sentence for the sake of the readers; it’s the writing that illustrates conversations between two or more characters in a story. We read and hear it all around us, but creating it in your own work can be a challenge. However, if you find dialogue an obstacle in your writing, then don’t push the panic button. In this tutorial, you’ll find by analyzing what dialogue can do and how to use it, you can turn your greatest fear into your greatest ally in your story.


What dialogue is

Like I’ve asserted before, dialogue is basically what the characters are saying to each other. It can be found in multiple mediums such as books, movies, comics, video games, etc.  We even engage in dialogue daily without even thinking. When you talk to your best friend, a co-worker, or even your dog, you create dialogue. It’s exchanging ideas, thoughts, and opinions with others.

In other words, dialogue is interaction with the world around us or other people, and is therefore an action.

However, writing it takes a slightly different approach than normal writing; it’s a type of action that can reveal a lot about a character in the form of spoken words. What makes it really special is it can vary greatly from character to character. So in order to be able to write believable dialogue, you first must ask yourself who is talking.


Defining a Character

To know what to make your character say, you must know who that character is and what he/she is like. The only way to get answers is to ask questions, so try to think about…

-what adjectives describe the character?
-what is the character’s personality/attitude?
-how do they react to certain subjects and why?

A character’s voice is defined by who they are, and can also be shaped by the current situation they’re in. You have to analyze both their mental and physical qualities to really bring their voice to life.


Mental Characteristics:

So you’ve already brainstormed some adjectives to describe your character’s personality. How a character behaves or thinks influences how they speak. Can you imagine a gangster that lives in the alleyways speaking like a nun raised in a church? Probably not. Their vocabulary and word choice would be from completely different worlds-and that’s what makes them distinct from each other.

Vocabulary is a collection of words the character knows and/or uses. Word choice is the diction or what words they choose to use when speaking, depending on their situation. They’re both very similar and work together to shape the phrases a character uses.

Let’s say your character is a librarian, for example. Chances are he/she enjoys reading books, and probably has a larger-than-average vocabulary. Perhaps he/she is a word-geek and use long, sophisticated words without thinking, constantly confusing those around them when they talk. Or maybe he/she is the shy type who answers in few words-not because they don’t know any other words, but because of their reserved personality.

The same thought process is applicable to other types of characters as well. Is your character a short tempered mob boss? They’d probably use swear words every five seconds. Do you have a software engineer whose sole passion in life is code? They might use computer jargon whenever they nerd over technology. Got a high school hipster who loves hanging around his/her peers? They’d probably use teenage slang quite a bit.

These are cases of word choice being dependent on vocabulary and influenced by personality. Note that I used ‘probably’ in my explanations; characters are flexible subjects, and there can be exceptions depending on the character.


Physical Characteristics:

You may be asking, “Huh? Physical characteristics? What the heck does that have to do with how my character talks?” Although it may not be as prominent as mental attributes, a character’s physical, current state can affect a character’s voice, too.

A character may have a habitual, physical element to them that influences their voice. Maybe he/she stutters when they’re nervous, or was born with a speech impairment, or maybe has a strong accent (although this can be tricky, so be careful).

Another thing to consider is your character’s current situation in the story. Did his/her best friend just dump them into a freezing cold swimming pool as a prank? Their teeth would be chattering like crazy. So when they yell back, “That wasn’t funny!!” it comes out as, “Th-th-that wasn’t-t-t f-f-funny!!”.

The great thing about taking in the current situation or physical state your character is it reinforces the detail of what’s happening in the story’s world. Some other examples include…

-is he/she drunk?
-sick with a sore throat?
-gagged?
-eating and talking at the same time?
-missing a front tooth? (This may apply to habitual element as well)

How do these things alter one’s voice? How do they distort a character’s word choice? By including these elements in a character’s words, it reminds the reader what’s going on and makes the dialogue that much more real.

A character’s voice may also change to where instead of words it has onomatopoeias-a word representing a sound. Usually an onomatopoeia refers to a sound like a ‘POP!’, ‘BOOM!’, or ‘SNAP!’, but the onomatopoeia’s I’m referring to are human cries that don’t exactly pertain to words, such as…

-“Ackpth!”
-“Ick!”
-“Ow!”
-“Ugh…”
-“Mmf…”
-“Ew…”

Understanding how they’re used with and without words can make a character’s voice more human (unless the character is a robot or some other exception). Let’s say one character is trying to wake up another character still in bed;

“Hey, time to wake up!”
“Mmf…”
“C’mon, rise and shine!”
“Mmn…Five more minutes…”
“Are you going to sleep in all day, or what?”
“Jus’ wanna sleep…zzz…”

As we can clearly see-or read-the sleepy character is obviously, well, sleepy. I also utilized ellipsis, or those moments of three periods, to show how his/her voice trails off. There are multiple ways to capture different shifts of tone in voice. Let’s take the phrase, “Oh, really?” and see what we can do to spice it up a bit.

“Oh…really?”
“Oh, really~?”
“Oh, REALLY?”
“Oh, real-“
“Oh, really?

Each one uses the exact same words, but is structured differently, giving them unique effects. Even though we have no idea what triggered the phrase or who’s talking, we can still understand the mood in the current situation.


How to Use Dialogue

Okay, we now have a strong, established understanding of how to create dialogue. Now we have another, more practical issue to tackle; to insert it into the story, especially in a written medium. One of the issues we run into is one of the most dreaded problems writers writing dialogue face; the ‘said-is-dead’ challenge.

Remember that example with one character trying to wake up another character? Let’s try to clarify who’s talking;

“Hey, time to wake up!” Ruby said.
“Mmf…” Red said.
“C’mon, rise and shine!” She said.
“Mmn…Five more minutes…” He said.
She said, “Are you going to sleep in all day, or what?”
He said, “Jus’ wanna sleep…zzz…”

Well, that’ll become a best seller...NOT. Get’s old and stale pretty fast, doesn’t it? To make your writing stronger, we need to replace and rearrange. Generally, the fewer ‘said’s in your work, the better. A reader may forgive you if you use it every now and then, but if you can avoid it, then avoid it. But the question is, how?

Back to our example with our characters Ruby and Red, notice how our two characters are speaking, or their tone. ‘Said’ is a generic verb describing speech, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of synonyms for it that can be used to specify how someone is speaking.

Say we have a character saying the corniest line in the history of all things corny; “I love you.” If we wrote that with ‘said’, then it’d sound even cornier. However, if we replace ‘said’ with a better, more specific verb, then we can make it less corny.

“I love you,” He said. (Original)
“I love you,” He whispered. (romantic version)
“I love you,” He croaked. (dramatic moment after he’s beat up and dying sappy version)
“I love you!” He shouted. (loud version?)

See what a difference it makes? Let’s try to rewrite our little conversation again with this ‘anti-said’ idea in mind;

“Hey, time to wake up!” Ruby yelled.
“Mmf…” Red mumbled.
“C’mon, rise and shine!” She barked.
“Mmn…Five more minutes…” He muttered.
She huffed, “Are you going to sleep in all day, or what?”
He grumbled, “Jus’ wanna sleep…zzz…”

That’s definitely much better, but we can play with it even more. For starters, we don’t have to strictly say ‘he/she/name (insert said synonym)’. We can tell the reader who’s talking by referring to the speaker’s actions or elaborating on what the speaker is doing as he/she is talking.

“Hey, time to wake up!” Ruby yelled into Red’s ear.
“Mmf…” He pulled the plush quilt over his head.
“C’mon, rise and shine!” The girl vigorously shook him by the shoulder.
“Mmn…Five more minutes…” Red muttered.
“Are you going to sleep in all day, or what?” She huffed with a pout.
Curling up into a ball under the covers, he grumbled, “Jus’ wanna sleep…zzz…”

By adding details to what Red and Ruby are doing while they speak, we add variation to describing their dialogue, and create a much more vivid description to our story.

Also, if it is clear that it’s just two people talking to each other, then we don’t need to say who’s talking on every single line. The reader can connect the dots.

“Hey, Jenna,” Rachel called from the doorway. “Have you seen my sweater?”
“Which one?” She raised her head from her book. “You’ve got enough to supply an army.”
“Ha ha. It’s the blue one. You know, with the white stripes around the cuffs.”
“You mean that one Mom gave you for your birthday last year?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Nope, haven’t seen it.” The redhead buried her nose back into her novel. “Did you search the laundry?”

The rule is every time someone new is speaking, then you turn that line of dialogue into a separate paragraph. Even if it’s just a one word response, you separate it into its own paragraph so it’s clear to the reader someone else is talking. Otherwise, to the readers, it will look like a confusing death wall/chunk of text, like below;

“Oi, head’s up, Hugh!” “Huh-OW!” “Whoa! Hugh, you okay?” “No…Ow, my head…”

It’s hard for the readers to distinguish who’s talking when we don’t separate the lines, even with the quotation marks. However, if we put each new line of dialogue in a new paragraph, then it becomes much, much easier-and more enjoyable- to read.

“Oi, head’s up, Hugh!”
“Huh-OW!”
“Whoa! Hugh, you okay?”
“No…Ow, my head…”

This is one of the basic rules of proper English grammar. Along with this rule, when you write, follow the other rules of grammar as well, like capitalization, spelling, punctuation, etc.

Conclusion:

Dialogue isn't just writing what two people are saying; it can reveal a character’s personality and the current situation. A character’s voice can bring a story to life and enhance a reader’s understanding of them. Analyze who’s talking, in what situation, and why, and then you’ll be able form their distinct voice.

I hope this tutorial is helpful!
When I write fanfiction, I often get positive feedback on how I capture the character's voices and dialogue. I do not consider myself a professional writer or flawless, but if my dialogue is that good, then I figured I might as well spread my wisdom! Just describing my thought process when I write fanfiction.

To all the writers out there-fanfiction or origional-I hope you find this tutorial helpful.

You can find my fanfictions (with PLENTY of dialogue examples) here on DeviantART tie-dye-flag.deviantart.com/ga… or on fanficiton.net www.fanfiction.net/u/5188736/t…

Edit:A...A d-daily deviation? Really? Am I dreaming? :faint: Thank you so much for the feature, DA! And thank you everyone for you're comments!! :boogie:
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Daily Deviation

Given 2014-08-23
Writing dialogue is about so much more than what the characters are saying and A Guide to Writing Dialogue by tie-dye-flag explains how to make dialogue not only effective, but also how it can show character growth. ( Featured by inknalcohol )
:iconajksob:
Ajksob Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Yeah, it's helpful. Dialogue is probably my weakness, hehe.
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:iconannamae411:
annamae411 Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I personally detest the use of the word "said."  I'd be more apt to have nothing but dead air following - or preceding - a line of dialogue, than to have "Jenna said blah, blah, blah" anywhere in any piece of mine.  I usually default to the describe everything happening route and to casually mention who is speaking in the paragraph.  You should go a little more in depth on writing accents, because I find that somewhat interesting to write.  However, what I find the most difficult to write when it comes to dialogue, is someone who's speech pattern is the complete opposite of my own.  Ex. someone who never uses contradictions and speak entirely proper English.  I have a few characters like that, and I find myself reading through one sentence five times to make sure I haven't slipped up.  Also, speaking the lines out loud to yourself, helps to better figure out how to phrase them.

And I'm on ff.net too!  I also have an account of fictionpress.net, which is the sister site dealing in original storylines only.  This was great by the way, even if it was just reiterating what I already know^^  Kudos and keep on keeping on :thumbsup:
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:iconmornofvivec:
MornofVivec Featured By Owner Edited Aug 27, 2014
I agree with you. In all of my more recent writings, I'd stopped using "said" except in the dialogue itself, because I feel it is too bland a word.
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:iconannamae411:
annamae411 Featured By Owner Aug 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I know, every once in a grand while I'll use said, and even then it's like once every five chapters at the least. 
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:iconmornofvivec:
MornofVivec Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2014
The only time I'll use said is if a character is talking about what another character said. I find myself using "stated" more often than said, as I find it slightly more flavorful, so to speak, than said.
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:iconannamae411:
annamae411 Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Ah yes, 'stated', the sophisticated older brother of 'said'^^
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:iconmiistical:
Miistical Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Student Writer
AHHH- I always have trouble with dialogue ;w; Thank you!
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:iconle-redhead-merchant:
le-redhead-merchant Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
A well deserved DD! I've received similar praise on my dialogue before, but I always got frustrated trying to explain the principles I follow. This clearly points out all the important things, in my opinion! :D I'll be sure to point people to this page if they want to understand dialogue better!
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:iconxxsmilesmakecaikxx:
XxSmilesmakecaikxX Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014
Wow. Thanks, this was very helpful.
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:iconvahalladice:
VahallaDice Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Clap Amazing. Simply amazing.
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:iconagonizingswordfish:
AgonizingSwordfish Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Congrats on the DD! :)
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:icongizmo-the-apprentice:
Gizmo-The-Apprentice Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Very helpful, thank you! ^^
Congrats on the Daily Deviation! ^^
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:iconhevflynia:
Hevflynia Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
with a little smile on my face i raised my hand and tipped very carefully:
" Many thanks for this very helping tutorial ".
Reply
:iconskeyestorm:
SkeyeStorm Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
This'll be helpful for the fanfic's I write. Congratulations on the Daily Deviation!
Reply
:icontie-dye-flag:
tie-dye-flag Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you so much! And good luck on your fanfics-that's how I learned how to write dialogue! :clap:
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:iconskeyestorm:
SkeyeStorm Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
Writing fanfic's is how I learned the said-is-dead rule. Anything pre-6th grade will be mostly
"Hey [person name]!" [Person name] said.
"Oh, hey [person name]! What are you doing here?" [person name] said.
but now I know to say replied asked, yadda yadda yadda. If I use said, I add an adjective to make it sound more professional-ish.
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:icontie-dye-flag:
tie-dye-flag Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Same here :nod:
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:iconflareice:
Flareice Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
One thing I've never been able to figure out is what verb to use when "said" seems to be the only appropriate one--like if the character's speaking in a normal tone:  "I guess I could go to the library," he said.  That's my only problem with dialogue.  Well, I probably have more, but that's the one I notice most.  What do you suggest I do to replace "said" in places like that...?
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:iconannamae411:
annamae411 Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I'd suggest something like "he shrugged" or something else about what he's doing while he's speaking.  That way you also let the readers know what's going on outside of the dialogue.  Or don't even mention his tone of voice.  Ex: 'He shrugged, shifting the strap of his backpack.  "I guess I could go to the library." The lack of inflection in his voice said what his words hadn't.'  That was you avoid the whole said issue entirely and get a whole lot more descriptive in the process. 

Hope that helped^^
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:iconflareice:
Flareice Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Okay, thanks.  ^^
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:iconsquanpie:
squanpie Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Pick up a book you like, and see how often they use 'said' - it's there a lot more than you ever notice, but as readers we tend to just skim over it. With anything in writing (or drawing or whatever) if you're not sure, then find a source you like and see how they do it for good examples of what works well.
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:iconflareice:
Flareice Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Okay.  Thanks for the advice!  ^^
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:iconmirz-alt:
mirz-alt Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014   General Artist
I will sometimes describe how it was said.

"I guess I could go to the library," he said, his voice flat and monotone.

If it's a normal tone, you don't necessarily have to describe how it was said. As long as it's clear to the reader who is speaking, you don't always have to use tag. Use the words around it. Such as...

"I guess I could go to the library." He walked to the window and saw it raining. "Or maybe not."
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:iconflareice:
Flareice Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks!  ^^
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:icontie-dye-flag:
tie-dye-flag Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Judging by how you described it, I think it'd be okay to use 'said' in that case. Remember, it's okay if you use it every now and then. If you want to jazz it up a notch, perhaps you could describe what he's doing as he speaks, like for example; "I guess I could go to the library," he said as he stared out the window.
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:iconflareice:
Flareice Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Okay.  I just always feel bad when I use "said" because of how the teachers drilled it into us not to do that so much in elementary school XD
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:icontie-dye-flag:
tie-dye-flag Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I always get the exact same feeling when I use 'said' too ^^; But if anything else makes it sound weird or unnatural, then trust your judgement and use 'said'. As long as you don't overdo it (unless intentional) then you'll be fine :)
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:iconflareice:
Flareice Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Okay, thanks!  ^w^
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:icondraketheduelist:
DrakeTheDuelist Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014
Stuff I've figured out on my own, but it's put together concisely enough that it pretty much encapsulates how to write good dialogue.

What I can add though is a trick I heard from a writing class in college.  The rules of grammar are best thought of like laws.  They're a list of very generic, one-size-fits-all guidelines that keep the general order.  However, these laws can't account for every possible scenario that could occur, resulting in situations where following the rules as written may prove more harmful than helpful because adherence to a rule is taking precedence over the application of critical thinking to the present scenario.  A skilled writer can be forgiven for bending (and even outright breaking) these laws if they do so for a purpose.  The archetypical example that springs to mind is the heavily-accented redneck who drops a lot of "ain't"s.  Poor grammar?  Strictly yes, but you're breaking grammatic rules in order to deliver on characterization.  Heck, those last two sentences probably weren't strictly grammatically kosher, but were intended to illustrate the inherent false coupling between good writing and syntactic accuracy with jarring contrast.  This anti-rule can even be extrapolated out from mere dialogue into elements like narration and description.

In essence, part of knowing the rules is knowing when and how to break them.  Breaking strict narrative rules to deliver on an aesthetic is the yellow-brick road that leads to The Avengers (and a lot of Joss Whedon's work, for that matter).  Breaking narrative rules for no (or worse, stupid) reasons is the road to Twilight.
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:icontie-dye-flag:
tie-dye-flag Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Yes, you do have some good points there :nod:

And you have to know the rules to break them.
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:icondoctorwholovesthe80s:
Thanks. My biggest problem is I'm afraid I go adverb crazy. He quietly said. She kissed, softly. Etc.
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:iconmirz-alt:
mirz-alt Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014   General Artist
This is what the edit process is for. Write your story and don't worry about it. Then after you have your first draft, trim them out. A few here and there are okay. Take the rest out. I think you'll find that even some of the best writers do the same thing, lean heavily on adverbs. They are just good at pulling them out and using alternates when they are in the editing phase.
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:icondoctorwholovesthe80s:
So true...
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:iconasjjohnson:
AsjJohnson Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist

You sure the ‘talking to your dog’ one isn’t monologue? :P

Huh. I was recently thinking about maybe trying to better understand characters. Not so much for dialogue, but for writing a scene in general, since a lot of narrative is from a character’s point of view. I have a bunch of fanfiction ideas, but I haven't written much for awhile, so I've been thinking about how to fix that.

The mental and physical stuff you mention goes beyond what I’ve thought of so far. This might come in handy.

About the non-words, I tend to say “Ack!” when something goes wrong. Once, I think I was worried I’d lost something important on the computer and the computer wasn’t responding, so I kept repeating ‘ack’ over and over. “Ack. Ack; ack; ack. Acck. Ack.” My dad told me to quit because it was annoying. (though, if I exclaim at touching something hot, I might just say “hot!”)

...he doesn’t actually say zzz, does he?

I used to think that way about ‘said’, but then I found out that it’s best to pretty much only use ‘said’. Some kind’a writing rule, that you shouldn’t use words besides ‘said‘ or ‘asked‘. The first example with the added tags, it’s slightly hard to read because of how you change them a little in pairs.

But... I haven’t really discovered a way of saying that someone whispered or mumbled something without saying they whispered or mumbled something. So that kind’a makes the ‘only say said’ thing confusing.

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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I like the ground up approach.

That said I do respectfully disagree with the said is dead, the answer isn't to stuff every line, in my opinion, it's to move past the bits that don't need explanation. Dialogue tags, you're distracting the reader; said is there to be unobtrusive. Although I quite like your last bit, so maybe this just wasn't explicit enough for me.
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:iconleftunfinished:
LeftUnfinished Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
This will be very helpful. Thanks!
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:iconthegalleryofeve:
TheGalleryOfEve Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Congratulations on your well-deserved DD!!! :iconflyingheartsplz::iconlainloveplz::iconflyingheartsplz: :clap::clap::clap:
I’m very happy for you!!! :iconloveloveplz: :tighthug:
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:iconzaxo-kenichi:
ZaXo-KenIchi Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Clear, concise, and informative. I myself am already fairly adept at writing dialogue, since such knowledge was basically forced on me by my need to create a smooth ebb and flow when I write. But it would be a shame not to Favorite this since it's so well done, and would be an easy place to link newer and greener writers to when they're having trouble. Great job!
Reply
:icondenisecroy:
DeniseCroy Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you! And congratulations on the DD :)
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:icondragondud:
Dragondud Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014
This could be very useful.
:iconcreepyspongebobplz:
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:iconcleeshayed:
CleeShayed Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I disagree with your statement on "anti-said". Complicated speaker tags like "hollered" and "mumbled" are usually implied, or they're TNS.
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:iconquantumreality:
QuantumReality Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014
I've seen both sides of the debate, and I think I come down on the side of "actually, they're both right, but use the non-said tags like salt on food: just the right amount is good, but too much tends to overwhelm".
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:iconlytrigian:
Lytrigian Featured By Owner Edited Aug 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
And, also like salt, the right amount is much, much less than you might think.

The main problem with the examples used here is that the "said-booked" version is not actually better than the "he-said, she-said" version. In one way it's worse. No one would write "he-said, she-said" like that, but plenty of writers think the said-booked way is good when, as presented, it very much isn't.
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:icondogedogerevolution:
dogedogerevolution Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
this is a really good reference! ^^
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