Common Writing Pitfalls #3: Dialogue Part One

  • Common Writing Pitfalls Series

    Another edition of Writing Pitfalls. 

    This time we are looking at dialogue. 

    This is part one of a two part post.

    In Common Writing Pitfalls Part One we talked about Mechanics and Style
    Then we mentioned the need for Back-up. After that we flew through POV: Point Of View. 

  • 1. Formatting for speakers: Each speaker needs his own paragraph.

Don’t confuse your reader about who is talking in a scene—especially if there are more than two characters. To avoid confusion, start a new paragraph each time a new person speaks.

Jerry slammed his hands on the table. “That girl just stole your Jag.”

“What?” Paul whirled around.

2.  Formatting for action in reaction to a speaker:

Begin a new paragraph when another character reacts to the speaker—even if he doesn’t answer back. If Jerry speaks and Paul reacts, you need two paragraphs.

Jerry slammed his hands on the table. “That girl just stole your Jag.”

Paul whirled around to catch the tail end of his father’s car careening around the corner.

3.  Don’t use said all the time as a tag. Use action beats instead.

Give the speaker an action and the reader will know whose talking. Constantly using said makes the dialogue boring.

Using beats gives you a chance to show body language, expression, emotions, setting, etc. Use it to your advantage.


“I love your Jag,” Jerry said.

“Birthday present,” Paul said.

“Wow, I got an X-Box for my birthday,” Jerry said.


 “I love your Jag.” Jerry’s eye’s widened.

“Birthday present.” Paul shrugged and opened the passenger door.

“Wow.” Jerry’s mouth hung open a moment and then he closed it. “I got an X-Box for my birthday.”

3.  That being said, if you must use a tag, use the word said.

Said is almost like a non-word. Readers skip over it and it doesn’t interrupt the story.

Throw away all those other tags like asked, replied, cried, begged, sighed, whimpered, grunted, called, whispered, etc. They are distracting words that pull the reader out of the scene. Like running over a speed bump.


“I really wanted those earrings,” I whined.

“I know,” Ella cried.

“Maybe I’ll just steal them,” I whispered.

“What?” Ella exclaimed.

WORSE: There’s nothing worse than also adding adverbs to these tags. Okay, there may be something worse, but still, don’t do it.

“I have to have that candy bar,” I whined loudly.

“Fine!” Ella exclaimed angrily.

“What? You can’t share with your sister?” I exclaimed frustratingly.

“I just said you I would,” Ella grunted meanly.

4.  Your character can perform the above actions. Just don’t add them as tags.

Annabelle sighed. “I will always love you.”

“I had nowhere else to go.” It came out a whisper.

 5.  Action/Reaction

The action must come before the reaction. Simultaneous actions can be confusing. You have to hear the voice before you can describe it.

Incorrect: With great sarcasm he added, “Why are you here?”

Correct: “Why are you here?” His heavy tone was a mix of sarcasm and disbelief.




  1. I listened to an audiobook of a bestselling YA novel that I won’t name. The “he said” and “she said” tags were so numerous in conversations between two people that I almost lost my mind. That made me pay more attention to my own in my writing. lol

    • Lori Freeland |

      I try to read everything out loud as a final edit. I catch myself finding extra or repeated words and silly cheesy dialogue all the time.

  2. Thanks to some major computer problems (had to have my hard drive replaced twice in one week), I’m way behind on everything, including reading your blog. I found this post particularly relevant and I sent the link to all my critique buddies.

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