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Tips for writing and editing dialogue

When I edit an novel, I do about 6 to 8 edits, each focusing one one particular area.

The main areas I work on are: dialogue, descriptions, showing not telling, taboo words, chapter beginnings and endings, and backstory. It's important to edit this way so you don't get swept up in the reading. Much of what we read is skimmed over. When we edit, we shouldn't skim over anything!

Here’s are some tips on how I go about editing dialogue:


Are you paraphrasing what could be said? Dialogue is important, especially in YA fiction. If there is a conversation between characters, it is preferred that this be told through dialogue instead of paraphrasing.

Watch for lengthy prose that can be broken up with dialogue. And the opposite is true. Watch for too much dialogue that can be broken up with prose.

Informal Contractions/Catch phrases/Slang/Jargon/Accents/Native tongue

Is the dialogue natural? People say ‘cause, instead of because. They say ummm, yeah, dunno, gonna, wanna, whatchya... things like that. Information contractions are not used outside of dialogue or internal monologue.

Some people use slang, catch phrases, special words, jargon to convey their emotions. Be careful not to have too much. While this is fine for a sub character, it can be taxing to the reader to be always interpreting words. The Secret Garden is a classic example of how an accent is used throughout the book by one character and it can slow down the pace if a reader has to re-read.

Internal monologue

If it’s told in first person, you don’t need to use …I thought. You can simply italicise the internal thought.  Example: He’s kidding me, right?

If you use third person you can use … he/she thought. Some publishers like both. Example: He’s kidding me, right, she thought.

Watch for characters having one-sided conversations. This is probably best told using internal monologue. We often think things in front of a mirror, but we don’t often say them, that is why some characters get dogs to talk to. Sidekicks work well for this purpose, too.


Most characters do things while they talk. However, this can slow down a scene if there is too much action, but not enough action between dialogue can be like a Ping-Pong game - it's all back and forth.

Add things such as Bob fidgeted to convey nervousness, or Bob lifted his jaw to convey defiance.

Add a bit of internal monologue to break up ping-ponging because not everyone says what they think and this can make for interesting character interaction.   


It’s natural. We all do it. Characters can do it, too. Even if you have a character that is shy or nervous or afraid to argue back, they will still do it internally, so make sure you include this internal monologue in the conversation. It will add spice and realism to the dialogue.


It’s okay to have characters stumble to convey emotion. Example: “I cant…I just can’t.” or  “Wait. No, it’s okay. Ooh, I’m gonna regret this.” This also stops very stilted, formal dialogue from taking place.


Most people just glance over he said/she said so it’s fine to just use these.

Better to use the said tag than to pad the writing with adverbs such as exclaimed, gasped, screeched, argued. Use then when and if they are called for.
At the same time, watch for too much he said/she said, and watch for adverbs used in dialogue tags.  Instead of “Enough!” Bob said angrily. Use Bob slammed his fist on the table. “Enough!”

I hope these dialogue editing tips help with your manuscript. Subscribe to my newsletter if you'd like to receive more tips. I'll be posting more editing tips soon.

Thanks for dropping in!


D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.

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