This may read like Grammar 101, but I see these mistakes in a lot of unpublished, new author’s works. Unfortunately, these mistakes scream “Amateur!” and hurt the author’s chances of getting published.
If these rules are elementary, skip them. For everyone else, print them out and nail them to your monitor.
“You sandbagged me with another blind date,” Kim said. “You know I’m involved with someone.” Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic.”
Don’t put two character’s conversations into one paragraph. It makes it very difficult to figure out who is talking.
Start a new paragraph every time a new character speaks.
“You sandbagged me with another blind date You know I’m involved with someone.” Said Kim.
“Stop being so melodramatic!” Said Mallory.
The character’s conversation and the tag should not be two separate sentences. This is a basic grammar rule. Use a comma instead of a period, and make the conversation flow into the tag.
“You sandbagged me with another blind date You know I’m involved with someone“, Kim said.
Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic“!
Always put terminal punctuation (commas, periods) inside the quotation marks.
“I can’t believe you, Mallory! You sandbagged me with another blind date when you know I’m involved with someone. Ross and I are madly, deeply in love. I just think you’re jealous of our love. You always have been, but this time you’ve gone too far. Too far, I tell you! And, I will never forgive you. Not today or tomorrow or in a million years from now. Our friendship is officially over!” Kim said.
Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic! Ross broke up with you. He cruelly, unceremoniously dumped you and he’s not coming back. No matter what you do or say, he will never come back. You need to make peace with that and learn to accept it. That’s why I set you up. Because I’m your friend, and always will be.”
The characters need a chance to breathe. Besides, no one really talks like this — and if they do, no one is really listening. Keep the dialog brief and to the point. The conversation above would be much easier to follow if it was broken-up into an exchange between the two women.
“You sandbagged me with another blind date,” Kim said angrily. “You know I’m involved with someone.”
“Stop being so melodramatic,” Mallory said indignantly.
Repeat after me: Adverbs are not my friend. Adverbs are not my friend. Adverbs are not my friend. If you need to explain the emotion, then you’ve written flat dialog or a stale scene.
* Examples based on an excerpt from the mystery novel Prey of Desire.