Let’s Talk Dialogue – Part 2 – Do You Say It Out Loud Or Keep It To Yourself?

Let’s Talk Dialogue – Part 2 – Do You Say It Out Loud Or Keep It To Yourself?


Writers Write creates writing resources and shares writing tips. In this post from our Let’s Talk Dialogue series, we discuss how to know if you say it out loud or keep it to yourself.

Last week I wrote about How to shape and structure spoken words. This week I want to talk about how interior thought works with dialogue.

We live in the age of the ‘over-share’. On meeting someone for the first time, do we blurt out things better left private – our love life, medical history or religious and political beliefs?

An example of TMI (Too Much Information) is perhaps a great way to show how spoken dialogue and interior thought works in fiction.

Out of your character’s mouth

Imagine that a character – let’s call him Clement – is going for a job interview.

‘I really can’t stay too long,’ Clement said. ‘My mom’s waiting in the car for me. You see, I don’t have my own car.’
The recruiter looked up from her clipboard. ‘We should be finished in a few minutes.’
‘She doesn’t like it when I’m late,’ he went on. ‘I know I should stand up to her. My therapist says I should be more assertive. What do you think?’
She smiled. ‘I think respecting your mother is important.’

In the above example, the words were spoken by the characters – out loud, and Clement and the recruiter could hear each other. As writers, we show this by using inverted commas or quotation marks.

Let’s Talk Dialogue – Part 2 – Do You Say It Out Loud Or Keep It To Yourself?

What’s going on in her head?

Now, let’s imagine the recruiter – let’s call her Karen – in the above example has some serious doubts about Clement as a candidate – but she won’t share these with him. She’ll keep them to herself. This is what it could look like.

Karen looked at the candidate opposite her. This one looks like a loser, she thought. Why do I always get stuck with the freaks?
‘I really can’t stay too long,’ he said. ‘My mom’s waiting in the car for me. You see, I don’t have my own car.’
Karen looked up from her clipboard. ‘We should be finished in a few minutes.’ And so will your chances of ever getting this job.
‘She doesn’t like it when I’m late,’ he went on. ‘I know I should stand up to her. My therapist says I should be more assertive. What do you think?’
She smiled. ‘I think respecting your mother is important.’ Especially if you’re Norman Bates.

In this example, the words in italics are Karen’s thought. Sometimes called interior thought, it’s the private voice inside your character’s head. You don’t have to use the italics to show interior dialogue or speech, but it’s a nice way to make it stand out.

When we write, we should find a consistent way to show the spoken dialogue and the interior thoughts of our characters, so that the reader never becomes confused.

Read Part 3: 6 Ways Emphasis Can Change Meaning In Dialogue

by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to know more about dialogue, you will love:

  1. Let’s Talk Dialogue – How To Shape And Structure Spoken Words
  2. Let’s Talk Dialogue – Do You Say It Out Loud Or Keep It To Yourself?
  3. Let’s Talk Dialogue – 6 Ways Emphasis Can Change Meaning In Dialogue
  4. Let’s Talk Dialogue – 5 Ways Punctuation Makes It Perfect!
  5. Let’s Talk Dialogue – How Social Media Has Changed Dialogue

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