Some Important Definitions

**NOTE: “dialog” is the American spelling and “dialogue” is the UK spelling.

Narration: The story teller communicates the story; “tells.”

Exposition: The author relays needed background information, description, explanation, interpretation, and introduces characters. This is done by static exposition, “telling” the situation, characters and setting. Or it can be done by real time depiction of story action, “showing.”

Dialog: A conversation between two or more people or characters; the “shows.”

Internal Dialog: (internalization) A character speaks his/her thoughts to himself/herself; internal monologue.

Direct Internalization: A character’s given directly, word for word, in present tense and first person

Introspection: Conveying the character’s own thoughts, feelings, and sensations, internal inspection.



First Person: (I) Telling the story in only one POV.

Second Person: (you) Telling the story as if the reader were taking part in the action and the narrator follows the character around, observing.

Third Person: Telling the story via various POV characters.


Must accomplish one of three things:

  1. Move the story forward
  2. Give information
  3. Help with characterization

Characterization Help: Giving each character his/her own voice or speaking style. Differences vary on gender, age, personality, social status, education, geographical location, historical era, etc.

  1. Professionals may use more correct English and longer sentences. Others may use rougher language, a lot of one- or two-word questions or answers, sprinkled with expletives.
  2. Personality differences can include: Shy or outgoing? Talkative or quiet? Formal or casual? Modern or old-fashioned? Confident or nervous? Tactful or blunt? Serious or lighthearted? Relaxed or stressed?
  3. Gender differences can include: men are terser and more direct; prefer to talk about things rather than people or feelings; and they often use brief or one-word answers. Women talk about people and relationships; hint at or talk around a subject; tend to express themselves in more complete sentences; and often want to discuss their feelings.

Can also:

  1. Foreshadow upcoming events
  2. Make events more vivid
  3. Give life to characters and their relationships with others
  4. Speed up action – short, snappy, abrupt dialogue shows tension

Important Shoulds:

  1. Should read like real speech, but leave out the boring parts, the filler words, and unessential dialogue that doesn’t contribute to the plot in some way
  2. Should include emotional or sexual tension and subtext. Silence, interrupting, or abruptly changing the subject can be effective in dialogue



  1. Enclose dialogue with quotation marks.
  2. Use a comma between the dialog and the tag line.
  3. Periods and commas go inside the quotation marks.
  4. Semicolons, question marks, dashes and exclamation points go outside the quotation marks, unless it directly pertains to the material within the quotes.
  5. Set off an interrupted tag line by commas.
  6. Set off a quotation within a dialog with single quotes.
  7. Start a new paragraph with each new person speaking.
  8. If a character speaks then performs some kind of action and then speaks again, this can be done in the same paragraph.



  1. Don’t have too many dialogue scenes in a row. The reader needs a break.
  2. Don’t provide too many background details in conversation.
  3. Don’t use dialogue to tell the readers things the characters already know.
  4. Don’t have the characters constantly using each other’s names.
  5. Don’t overuse profanity and slang. And don’t use slang or common words from the wrong time period.
    • Wench, m’lady, rock and roll
  6. Don’t make a character sound too stuffy or speak too formally, unless that is his/her actual personality.
    • Use contractions (don’t, can’t, shouldn’t, I’m, we’ll, they’ll)
  7. Don’t make the character’s dialogue sentences too grammatically correct. Break off sentences or sometimes speak in phrases.
  8. Don’t overuse “um” or “er” when a character is being hesitant.
  9. Don’t have characters politely wait for other speakers to finish talking. People interrupt each other.
  10. Don’t overuse exclamations and exhortations (“ugh’s)
  11. Don’t use non-speaking words as attributes:
    • “That’s so nice,” she smiled. or “You bet,” he grinned.
    • You can’t “smile” or “grin” words.
  12. Don’t have too much dialogue without showing movement or description to anchor things down. Give a small action to activate the reader’s imagination to a picture they can see.
    • A garbage truck groaned to a halt outside the open window, followed by the angry blaring of a car’s horn. He turned in a snap and slammed the window shut.
    • …as they walked into the office
    • …they pulled up in front of the mansion
    • …she got up and started pacing
    • …he clenched his fists
  13. Don’t include unnecessary niceties, restate every detail of a normal conversation.
    • Hi.
    • Hi. How are you?
    • Good. And you?
    • All right. Where are you going?



  1. Don’t use too many dialogue tags that veer from “he said/she said” because they draw attention away from what is being said.
  2. Do use tags that can advance the plot or ramp up the imagery: shouted, whispered, mumbled, yelled, murmured, or screamed.
  3. Other tags that don’t distract a reader include repeated, told, explained, advised, and remarked.
  4. Don’t overuse tags that end in adverbs (telling rather than showing)
  5. Don’t use more than one dialog tag per paragraph.



Purposes of Internalization:

  1. Get the reader to identify and empathize with the POV character
  2. Reveal emotional depth
  3. Help to establish internal conflicts
  4. Gives the POV character’s slant on the setting, other characters, the situation, conflict, and emotional ties



  1. Never use quotation marks around a character’s thoughts.
  2. Use italicized text ONLY for direct internal thoughts spelled out word for word, written in first person, present tense. Do NOT tag internalized thoughts.
    • John stopped and stood flat against the wall. When he glimpsed around the corner, he saw no one. It worked. I finally lost the thugs.



Purposes of Narration:

  1. Show action
  2. Provide important backstory
  3. Give clues of the character’s growth
  4. Give details of something about the characters, scene, or plot that can’t come out in dialogue
  5. Let the reader imagine what the POV character sees and experiences in a situation or setting
  6. Give the reader a breather from the fast pace
    • After hanging up the phone, I ate a late-night snack, thought about what had been said, and eventually got some sleep.



  1. Don’t write too much narrative that doesn’t add to the storyline.
  2. Don’t describe something in detail that could be more simply stated in dialogue.
  3. In memoirs, don’t bog down the narrative summary by telling too much, showing too little.
    • Instead, create scenes and include imagery: sights, aromas, sounds, weather, etc.



  1. Conversations between characters are a small part of the story; other parts are thoughts, actions, and description.
  2. A 50/50 balance between dialogue and narrative concentrates too much on talking. But the balance depends on the genre. Genre novels are more dependent on dialogue than mainstream or literary fiction.
  3. A 60-70/40-30 balance of narrative to dialogue is a better balance.



Purpose of Deep Point of View:

  1. Integrate all parts of the character’s reality, which includes their mental, physical, and emotional realities.
  2. Physical Reality: where the character is in geographical space, and all the things that the character experiences through his/her senses. This includes things the character feels physically inside his/her body.
  3. Emotional Reality: what the character feels emotionally.
  4. Mental Reality: what the character thinks.
  5. Speaking is kind of physical and anchors the physical aspect. Give a reaction that another character can experience, a physical reality:
  6. Show an emotional reality.
  7. Show a mental reality: She was sweet and innocent. He knew it hadn’t been her that had inflated expenses and pocketed the difference.



The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.