Writing Quick Tips: Remove Names from Dialogue

Posted June 11, 2014 by Briana in Dialogue / 12 Comments

Photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões on Flickr

Photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões on Flickr

I see a lot of mistakes in writing when it comes to dialogue.

Since I’ve worked hard to improve the dialogue in my pieces, it’s easy for me to spot exchanges that don’t work in other people’s projects. For one reason or another, they just don’t gel. The writing doesn’t flow like actual conversation.

Luckily, there are several ways to keep dialogue from falling flat.

One of the quickest ways to improve your dialogue is to cut back on your usage of the characters’ names.

What do I mean?

Consider the following:

“Sarah,” Brad said, “don’t you think this is a good idea?”

“No, Brad,” Sarah said.

“Why not, Sarah?”

“Because, Brad, we’re both married. Besides, Brad, we’re first cousins. Think of the inbred children.”

While this example isn’t the best, it’s clear that the dialogue sounds terrible (inbred children aside). It’s unnatural. In real life, people don’t refer to each other by name if they’re addressing each other. When they do, it’s usually out of anger or because they’re speaking about something that is of the utmost importance.

Here’s the same exchange with most of the characters’ names cut out (the ones left in are left for emphasis):

“Sarah,” Brad said, “don’t you think this is a good idea?”

“No,” Sarah said.

“Why not?”

“Because, Brad, we’re both married. Besides, we’re first cousins. Think of the inbred children.”

If you’re looking for a quick way to improve your dialogue, cut out characters’ names in places where they don’t add value.

What do you think of this advice? Would you like to see more writing quick tips?

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[email protected] shares a quick tip for improving dialogue. (Click to tweet)

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12 responses to “Writing Quick Tips: Remove Names from Dialogue

  1. That’s great advice! It sound very unnatural if your characters speak like that… However, I always get stuck when it comes to conversations between more than two characters. Then I feel like I have to use the name… Do you know anything to fix that problem?

  2. Use description between the dialogue, if that makes any sense. Something like, “Carrie turned to Jack.” Just to distinguish the different speakers. Also keep in mind that when there’s a conversation between two or more people, two of the people do most of the talking while the third one comments on what’s going on. Does that make sense?

  3. Your illustration is crazy funny but so true! Keep the tips coming. They’re helping me try different styles of narration in my short stories.