Monday, October 10, 2011

Buried Dialogue: The Unofficial Rules

Last week, we discussed buried or hidden dialogue and I promised to continue today with the unofficial rules. Here they are:

1) Show dialogue, narration, dialogue.
Ex. “This is silly.” She looked away. “There’s no way I could put that on.”

2) Show dialogue then narration.
Ex. “I’m coming.” She rushed down the stairs with her purse in hand.

3) Show narration then dialogue.
Ex. He flipped open the phone. “Morris. Yeah, she’s right here. Don’t worry. I won’t let her leave my sight.”

4) Don’t show narration, dialogue, narration because the dialogue is buried between the two pieces of narration, which explains why it’s called buried dialogue.

5) An exception is when the narration following the dialogue is a dialogue tag or narration explaining the tone of voice used. But even that should be used sparingly.

Ex.1 She picked up the last toy and tossed it in the box. “If I have to clean up after Sissy one more time, I’m going to scream,” she said slowly, emphasizing every word.

Ex.2 She lifted a tissue to her nose and blew. “He’s gone.” Her voice quivered almost as much as her hand.

Example 2 would be stronger like this:

She lifted a tissue to her nose and blew.
“He’s gone.” Her voice quivered almost as much as her hand.

How do you eliminate buried dialogue? Sometimes that means moving things around so the dialogue is at the front or end of the narration. Sometimes you'll have to delete the narration, or you can add narration about someone else, which gives you an excuse to change lines. Other times, a line change is all that's needed to either give you a "narration plus dialogue" or "dialogue plus narration" effect. Look back at last Wednesday’s post to see examples of how to fix buried dialogue.

Like I mentioned before, this isn’t a rule. It’s more like a trick to help keep your story’s pace flowing well. If you look through some of the more recently published novels, you’ll see authors rarely bury their dialogue. There has to be a reason for that, right?

Okay, fess up. Have you buried your dialogue?

Lynnette Labelle


  1. I don't think I do - at least no often. I don't like the of the sentence, or how it sounds. But, I may have some sections like that. I'd have to check . .

    Thanks for the lesson :)


  2. I discovered more buried dialogue during the first & second revisions of my manuscript than I expected. I didn't catch it all the first time because I did not have a thorough understanding of the rules of better dialogue. I try to eliminate it as much as possible now, even during my first draft. This creates a new problem for me because I then find myself editing when I should be writing.

    Thank you for the helpful information. I am very glad I found your blog