Dialogue Techniques: 50 Things Your Characters Can Do WHILE They Talk #how to write dialogue #writing dialogue #what are action tags #how to use action tags

The wonderful movie Warrior has a great lesson in how to write good dialogue. In one scene, a science teacher who moonlights as a fighter talks with his wife late at night while he repairs his girls’ dollhouse furniture. This is a brilliant action that tells you so much about the kind of guy he is, and it makes their conversation about bad financial news all the more compelling.

In fiction, giving your characters something to do while they talk is one of my favorite dialogue techniques, because can also add more depth or interest to the conversation. Additionally, it opens up new ways for them to express themselves through movement and body gestures. If someone’s having an argument while he unloads the dishwasher, he might bang the pots and pans around. If she’s jogging with a friend who tells her something shocking, she might stop in her tracks. If you want to know how to write better dialogue in your novel, this is one really good way!

If all the conversations in your story consist of people sitting and looking at one another, you might want to mix it up. Here are a bunch of things your characters could be doing while they’re talking. In some cases, maybe only one person is doing the action, while in other cases, both or all of the characters may be doing it.

Some actions may underscore the conversation, and others may provide an ironic contrast to it. I made most of these things pretty normal and everyday, but some of them are more unusual. The list will probably make you think of a lot more things that could work for your characters or your story.

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Dialogue Techniques: 50 Things Your Characters Can Do WHILE They Talk #how to write dialogue #writing dialogue #what are action tags #how to use action tags

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  1. Walking the dog.[spacer height=”20px”]
  2. Playing with a dog or cat — fetch, a laser pointer, etc.[spacer height=”20px”]
  3. Hiking or bicycling.[spacer height=”20px”]
  4. Folding laundry.[spacer height=”20px”]
  5. Gardening or planting a tree.[spacer height=”20px”]
  6. Digging a hasty grave.[spacer height=”20px”]
  7. Shooting at a firing range.[spacer height=”20px”]
  8. Decorating for a party, Halloween, or Christmas.[spacer height=”20px”]
  9. Wrapping gifts.[spacer height=”20px”]
  10. Polishing or repairing weapons or armor.[spacer height=”20px”]
  11. Sharpening a sword or kitchen knives.[spacer height=”20px”]
  12. Brushing or braiding hair — their own, or someone else’s.[spacer height=”20px”]
  13. Painting their nails, or someone else’s nails.[spacer height=”20px”]
  14. Getting dressed or undressed (or helping a kid get dressed, or trying on different outfits.)[spacer height=”20px”]
  15. Sewing, knitting, or crocheting.[spacer height=”20px”]
  16. Getting a tattoo. Or giving one.[spacer height=”20px”]
  17. Counting change, and/or making rolls of dimes or quarters.[spacer height=”20px”]
  18. Packing a bag.[spacer height=”20px”]
  19. Going through boxes of old stuff in an attic or basement.[spacer height=”20px”]
  20. Unpacking boxes in a new home.[spacer height=”20px”]
  21. Washing a stain out of something.[spacer height=”20px”]
  22. Cleaning up a mess — like spilled food or drink, an overflowing toilet, or a smashed lamp.[spacer height=”20px”]
  23. Building or tending a fire.[spacer height=”20px”]
  24. Playing golf or mini-golf.[spacer height=”20px”]
  25. Playing cards.[spacer height=”50px”][AdSense-B]
  26. Playing basketball.[spacer height=”20px”]
  27. Untangling a necklace or a fishing line.[spacer height=”20px”]
  28. Lifting weights.[spacer height=”20px”]
  29. Taking an exercise class.[spacer height=”20px”]
  30. Cooking, baking, or grilling.[spacer height=”20px”]
  31. Doing the dishes or putting dishes away.[spacer height=”20px”]
  32. Painting a room.[spacer height=”20px”]
  33. Showering.[spacer height=”20px”]
  34. Putting on makeup.[spacer height=”20px”]
  35. Shaving.[spacer height=”20px”]
  36. Woodworking.[spacer height=”20px”]
  37. Dancing.[spacer height=”20px”]
  38. Sparring.[spacer height=”20px”]
  39. Punching a punching bag.[spacer height=”20px”]
  40. Grocery shopping.[spacer height=”20px”]
  41. Restocking shelves or pricing items.[spacer height=”20px”]
  42. Watering houseplants or feeding the fish.[spacer height=”20px”]
  43. Giving someone a shoulder or foot massage.[spacer height=”20px”]
  44. Going through a place searching for something.[spacer height=”20px”]
  45. Tending to a wound, drawing blood, or giving someone a shot.[spacer height=”20px”]
  46. Browsing in a bookstore or library.[spacer height=”20px”]
  47. Fixing a motorcycle.[spacer height=”20px”]
  48. Changing a tire.[spacer height=”20px”]
  49. Changing a baby’s diaper.[spacer height=”20px”]
  50. Collating and stapling papers.[spacer height=”20px”]

My forthcoming book Blank Page to Final Draft, which takes you step by step through writing a novel, contains all kinds of help with every element of fiction. Check it out!

Blank Page to Final Draft by Bryn Donovan ebook free pdf

If you have any advice about combining action with dialogue, or you’ve done it in a way that worked out well, let us know in the comments. Happy writing!

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