Bartleby Snopes Writing Blog

Becoming a Better Writer

A Visual Guide to Bad Dialogue

Is bad dialogue ruining your stories?

Writing good dialogue–like any other aspect of good writing–is an art form. Dialogue needs to feel natural, to move the story forward, to be interesting, and a whole lot more. Oftentimes, writers will bury their dialogue within overly descriptive tags. Other times, writers use dialogue without clear purpose. These aren’t even the worst of the dialogue blunders.

Rather than going on and on about how to write (and how not to write) dialogue, here is a visual guide to bad dialogue. By seeing these obvious mistakes, you should have a better idea of what to avoid when crafting your own dialogue.

These are the four most common mistakes I see writers make when crafting dialogue (a special thanks to Assistant Editor April Bradley for designing the comic strips):

1. Using dialogue to describe things:

Marshmallow Clouds

2. Using dialogue to convey action:

As I Lay Dying

3. Using dialogue that sounds too formal and nothing like the way people really speak:

Feelings

4. Using dialogue that tries too hard to sound exactly how people talk:

Sweet Nadda

Dialogue can be a great way to move a story forward and reveal more about characters, but it can also be the downfall of your story. Don’t fall into these dialogue traps.

Don’t forget about our 6th Annual Dialogue Only Contest going on right now at Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. We’re giving away a minimum of $500 to our winners this year. So let your characters start talking. They may just earn you a lot of fame and fortune.

Nathaniel Tower

Nathaniel Tower is the founding and managing editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. Find out more about Nathaniel at nathanieltower.com.

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2 Comments

  1. The sky was moist. Danny walked his pit bull spike into the dugout where Tommy was sitting.

    “Hello, Tommy,” Danny intoned heavily. “How are you?”

    “I am fine, Danny,” Tommy replied quickly. “Is that your dog Spike?”

    “Yes, Tommy,” Danny rejoined. “Spike is a trained attack dog.”

    “Goofy! Goofy!” cried Tommy merrily, hitting Spike in the nose with his baseball glove.

    etc….ends with an ambulance arriving. Someone else in the dugout says, “Is that the siren of an ambulance, Danny?”

    To which he replies, “The situation is grave,” Tom said cryptically.”

    Fun with (bad) dialogue!

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