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Never say 'yes' or 'no'
Jason Myers
Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 5:48 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 21

I noticed this a few years ago, when watching high intensity tv shows or movies, and then in books. Whenever character A would ask character Y a question, Y would either never answer the question, or would make a statement as an answer.
This has helped me a lot in making my dialogue more "punchy".  When one character asks another one a yes or no question, I NEVER have the answer be a yes or a no. As a matter of fact, I revised an entire manuscript and took all the yes's and no's out.  It reads much better.

What tricks do you use to punch up your dialogue?

Tori Schindler
Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011 1:37 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 40

I'm fond of innuendo and making characters uncomfortable. When writing erotica anyway. Actually, I like making characters uncomfortable when writing paranormal too, just with less (explicit) sex.
MB Mulhall
Posted: Friday, April 15, 2011 3:42 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 80

Yes, innuedos are fun as are jokes, but sometimes I worry people won't get my sense of humor. I'm working on a spoof of YA romance right now and thankfully, most people seem to get my references and jokes.

I'll use slang on occasion but one thing I tend to stay away from is accents. Sooo hard to keep up and even worse to edit.
Posted: Saturday, April 16, 2011 7:13 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 8

I tend to hate dialogue tags, so I try to come to up with character-specific actions to insert instead, which I sometimes feel are forced but people tend to need something every now and again to navigate a written conversation. The dialogue itself I sometimes have to rein in at the editing stage, but that's usually the part that just "shows up." The characters just start talking and then later I have to kind of pull back and ask them where they are and what they're doing.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 2:54 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 376

I try to avoid rules in dialogue. People don't follow rules when speaking. That said, 'Yes' and 'No' are very flat answers. The only times you'll hear them in common speech are in very dull commercial conversations and when someone is closing themselves off.

In the former case, unless you're trying to make the reader *feel* the boredom (dangerous, at best), skim past them.

In the latter case, 'yes' and 'no' shouldn't be the only thing going on. The dialogue tags and non-verbal dialogue ought to be loaded in there. Think about the conversations you've had where the other person is pissed off and you're trying to read *why*. Almost as good, think about the conversations where *you're* pissed off and won't explain why.
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 6:15 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 222

I don't restrict myself to not using certain words in dialog. However, when my characters start getting pissed, one word answers grow more common. People who are angry either rant... or settle on a growled 'yes' or 'no'.

Yes and no can have their place.

I try to have my characters speak as they really would. Punchy dialog for the sake of being punchy doesn't work for me... not when I read it or when I write it. It is often fairly obvious when a writer is writing punchy dialog because he or she wishes to avoid the 'yes' or 'no' that would be far more natural there.

I need to improve my dialog, though. It is definitely one of my weaknesses. My problem is that everyone tends to sound like everyone else other than 'them'. But that is a fault with me.
Amy Sterling
Posted: Friday, April 29, 2011 1:04 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 25

Gee Jason, you're right on about this. More marked than even television are actual conversations.

People never respond directly, or very seldom. They talk around each other. Each person has a trajectory of what they want out of a conversation - in real life and in fiction. To me, one of the most enjoyable things about writing is being able to picture, then dance through a scene. Everything has its own rhythm . . .

So, who's getting up early to watch the Royal Wedding? (then there's "non sequitur")
Posted: Saturday, April 30, 2011 9:46 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 226

There are times when "yes" or "no" are legitimate dialogue, but I think that's also dependent on what genre and what type of character you're writing. One of my characters is a soldier-like alpha male, so "yes" and "no" are frequently used as one-word responses. He doesn't like to explain himself and doesn't like to be questioned. Unfortunately for him, my heroine doesn't just follow orders. *grin*

Neri Preslin
Posted: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 5:58 AM
Joined: 5/3/2011
Posts: 7

The easiest way to fix dialogue is to read it out loud, unless you want to make a character sound different than the normal population the way you would normally say something is probably how your character should say it as well.
Posted: Monday, May 9, 2011 12:10 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

Never say never.

In all seriousness, this is solid advice aside from the idea of NEVER doing it. There are times where a character who is always very direct can work well. This works ESPECIALLY well when the rest of the character do as you say (rarely/never use yes or no). Also, sometimes they may not even answer the question at all.
CY Reid
Posted: Saturday, May 14, 2011 12:08 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 51

I don't see a reason for using "yes" or "no" as responses during dialogue, simply because I wouldn't see it happen in real life. Dialogue is your best chance to tell your readers how "real" your characters are, and if they're talking like an IRC chatbot then realistically you're not going to draw anybody in.

For me, I tend to interrupt people a lot in real life, so I find that it crops up in my fictional dialogue, too. I find it also tends to accelerate the pace of the conversation slightly, and highlight the fact that people -do- talk over each other a lot of the time. I do think you can use yes and no, but the question you've got to ask yourself is whether or not the character is actually a monosyllabic person. If so, you could play it like this:

"Hey, John. Are you going to come to the gym now, or later?"


"Yeah, what?"


"Yeah, -what?- Why do people do that?"

"I don't-"

"The thing, the -thing- that people do, where they're offered a choice, and say 'yes' or 'no' instead. 'Do you want salad or chips with that?', and the other guy goes, 'yeah.' It drives me nuts."

That's a personal pet peeve, but the point of it is to illustrate my issues with people responding like that. It is, quite often, simply illogical, and we're illogical creatures who tend not to ask simple questions with yes/no answers. I think it's fun to play on these sorts of issues within fiction, because you're essentially writing dialogue about dialogue, about things people complain about constantly.

I also think that in today's culture, we really don't give one-word answers. We ramble, we respond instead with questions of our own, we get offended, we laugh, we're bemused - we're not returning a true/false inside some software, are we? So no, I'm out on using "yes" or "no" in that way, unless the character is specifically antagonistic, or monosyllabic.
Jason Myers
Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 1:06 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 21

CY, what a great post. I agree completely. You have to have an ear for how people talk. Some people have a real tin ear for dialogue and you can tell when you are reading it. Sometimes people write such weak dialogue it drives me nuts.

Reading it out loud really helps too.

Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 9:42 AM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 427

Bumping up this topic for new members to see!
Herb Mallette
Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 1:46 PM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 188

"Yes" and "no" are both useful words if used sparingly and in the right circumstances.

"Hi, Becky?"
"Yeah, who's this?"
"Hey, Sam. What's up?"
"Oh, nothing much. I was just calling because ... uh ... look, on Friday, there's this thing, and, I mean, it's fine if you're busy, or not interested, or --"
"Yes, I'd love to go, Sam. What is it we're doing?"

Or ...

From his position on the couch, Pete could hear only half of his mother's phone conversation with Aunt Lily: "You think so? Uh-huh. Sure. Right, he says that kind of thing all the time. No -- ha-ha, never. What? He did not. You can't be serious. What? Would I? How can you even ask that? No. No, not in a million years. Lily, don't be absurd. No. Absolutely not."


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