When there are multiple characters in a scene, it can be difficult to keep track of who’s doing the talking.
It’s so much easier when we’re writing dialogue for only two people.
All we have to do is let them take turns and, in longer sections of dialogue, occasionally insert a speech tag or bit of action to keep it clear who’s talking.
But once we start adding more characters in, it soon becomes confusing without dialogue tags to keep readers from getting lost.
This may work as a quick fix but isn’t always the best solution.
The Issue with Dialogue Tags
In most cases the speech tag “said” is almost invisible, allowing dialogue to flow naturally from point to point with no interruptions.
But when it’s used too much, it can quickly become tiresome and boring.
And when you get to the point where every line has a speech tag, things tend to get clunky and too complicated to follow.
Especially where there are more than three speakers and the reader must keep track of all the names.
We don’t want to give the readers any reason to put the book down, so we need to find other ways to break up the dialogue while keeping it interesting and easy to read.
This is where action and stage direction come in.
We want to give the characters the opportunity to interact with each other as well as the setting, with a touch of internalization here and there as the characters respond to events around them.
This keeps the dialogue feeling realistic and interesting and doesn’t lose the readers’ attention in the process.
Always Read for Clarity
When we’re all done, we need to read our dialogue aloud to get a feel its rhythm and pace.
If done correctly, the conversation will be easy to follow and flow nicely from point to point.
We also want to ensure each character has their own voice so the reader can always tell who is speaking.
We can do this by varying how each of them talks, their body language, and how they interact with each other, their surroundings, and the events around them.
We also want to make sure we have a variety of speech tags, names, action, and stage direction.
Too much of anything is never good, so we want to aim for an even balance as much as possible to keep our dialogue from becoming boring.
Get a feel for your characters and how they talk. If the dialogue feels natural to you, it will to your reader as well.
FOR FURTHER READING
Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.
She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.
She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.
From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.
She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.
When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.