Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'll have one Dialogue, please

How does the following paragraph read to you? Is the order logical? Smooth? Does it feel polished?

"I'm sorry," Amy said. "I'm just not ready."
Her hand trembled as she stared down at the small, black jeweler's box.
Her mind raced through her now-familiar list of marriage pros and cons.

There are guidelines to follow when writing action - reaction so sequences are logical and smooth. Evan Marshall simplifies it to F-A-D = feelings/thoughts, action, dialogue.

A heroine's feelings or thoughts come first. This may need a paragraph or a page, or she may have a split second flash.

Then she reacts to what she has felt (or thought) with a physical action. She freezes. She smiles. She looks around frantically. She throws her arms around her lover's neck. The action is justified by her just-stated inner state.

Then she speaks. What she says will advance the story because it will invite a response reaction from whoever is in the scene with her.

Based on F-A-D, the opening pararaph would read:

As she stared down at the small, black jeweler's box, Amy's mind raced through her now-familiar list of pros and cons. Her hand trembled. "I'm sorry. I'm just not ready."


  1. I've never read it simplified like this before! it makes such sense - thanks for posting!

  2. This is simple, isn't it!
    When the sequence is off, the reader can understand but it feels wrong. I'm thinking an agent or publisher's reader would notice too many of these.

  3. It's a very good rule-of-thumb, although of course, as in real life, there are times when our characters speak without thinking first! And an action or reaction can follow the words.
    As you say, it has got to 'feel' right, otherwise the writing simply doesn't flow.

  4. Getting the order of reactions and feelings can be tricky. I like the FAD acronym...easy to remember!

    I've also heard to use either a dialogue tag or an action, but not both.

  5. Thanks so much, I love all your helpful writing hints & tips! Keep 'em coming! :)- Kathy (Katwin2010)

  6. I agree, Paula. A character could speak in haste and then regret his words. Or react spontaneously and later think things through.

    Debra, FAD is easy to remember, so it will be a handy tool for me as I edit.

    Kathy, I am glad you're finding useful tips here!

  7. Excellent advice--in such an easy to remember way!! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great advice, Ana. I knew that the first set of dialogue didn't flow right, but didn't quite know why. Now I do.