“I love writing dialogue.” I said. “It helps set the scene, create suspense, move the plot forward and make your characters come alive.”
Moira said. “Except too many writers punctuate dialogue incorrectly".
“I know how to use correct punctuation”! I declared.
“And too many writers overuse adverbs,” Moira told me blithely.
“I never do that,” I said harshly and crossly. “And I make sure not to use distracting tag line.,” She interjected.
Moira tossed her Marilyn Monroe-esque hair over her shoulder. “What really gets me is when writers add distracting actions.”
My lips drooped in a pout. “I hate that, too.”
“And don’t you hate it when the dialogue goes on and on without any point?”
“But what really gets me is when there is endless dialogue and no description to let us know who the characters are and what they are doing.”
Okay. You get the point. The first two lines are true: dialogue is incredibly effective in a story or novel for young readers. The rest of the vignette illustrates (and exaggerates) how dialogue can detract from a story. Errors often signal "beginning writer" to an editor. Tag lines and punctuation must be spot on, and the scenes using dialogue must have a purpose.
In Emma’s River, Emma, her mother and Doctor Burton are taking a journey up the Missouri River. In this brief scene, they see the steamboat Sally May for the first time:
Holding her hat, Emma tipped back her head. “Now I know why Captain Digby calls his steamboat a giant wedding cake.”
“And did he also call it a floating coffin?” Doctor Burton asked. “Why just last month, the Caddo sank. Five dead. And the May Queen burst into flames—“
“Oh!” Mama slumped against the doctor.
“Mama!” Emma wrapped her arm around her mother’s bustle.
“I am so sorry, Missus Wright,” Doctor Burton said. Holding her up with one hand, he fanned her with the other. “I should not have spoken of such horrors in front of a lady in your condition.”
Emma had no idea what Mama’s condition was. But she had noticed it required smelling salts and billowy dresses.
The best way to learn how to write great dialogue is to study novels you admire. For example, analyzing how the dialogue is used in the above scene to create foreshadowing and shape the characters and looking carefully at tag lines and punctuation will help you write scenes that will catch an editor’s interest and keep her reading.
Alison Hart, a Virginia author of over twenty mysteries and historical fiction novels for children and teens, loves “writing books that keep young readers glued to the pages.” At the age of seven she wrote, illustrated and self-published The Wild Dog, a book which she shows to readers to make the point that it is never too early to be an author.