Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Seven Keys to Writing Good Dialogue

It goes without saying (but watch me say it) that dialogue is one of the very most crucial elements in a novel. Great dialogue can make a novel sing. Bad dialogue can sink it like a stone.

Here are a few ideas on what makes good dialogue work:

1. Good dialogue is not weighed down by exposition

When the dialogue is carrying exposition and trying to tell the reader too much, characters end up saying a lot of very unnatural and unwieldy things. You'll see things like:

"Remember that time we stole the frog from Miss Jenkins and she ended up giving us two hours of detention and that's how we met?"
"Yeah, totally! And now we're in 6th Grade and have to dissect frogs for our science project, which is due tomorrow. I don't know how we're going to get it finished in time."

So much of this dialogue would already be already apparent to the characters. They'd know how they met without having to talk about it, they'd know they're in 6th grade without having to talk about it, they'd know the science project is due without talking about it. So it's very clear to the reader that they're not talking to each other: they're really talking to the reader.

Exposition and dialogue only really mesh when one character genuinely doesn't know what the other character is telling them and it's natural for them to explain at the moment they're explaining it. Otherwise, if you're just trying to smush in info, your reader is going to spot it a mile away.

2. Good dialogue has a purpose and builds toward something.

Sometimes you'll see characters in novels bantering back and forth in a way that is meant to reveal character or fill space. Unless it's just so insanely unbelievably clever that the writer makes it work, usually this feels hollow and, well, boring.

A good conversation is an escalation. The dialogue is about something and builds toward something. If things stay even and neutral, the dialogue just feels empty.

Characters in a novel never just talk. There's always more to it.

3. Good dialogue evokes the way people actually talk in real life without actually sounding precisely like the way people talk in real life.

Paraphrasing Elmore Leonard, good writers leave out the boring parts. This goes doubly for dialogue: it's usually best to cut to the chase rather than spending time on the pleasantries that normal people use in everyday conversation.

In real life our conversations wander around all over the place, and a transcribed real life conversation is a meandering mess of free association and stutters. In a novel, a good conversation is focused and has a point.

And in a novel, dialect, slang, and voice is used sparingly. Just a hint of flavor is enough. As my client Jennifer Hubbard wrote, "good dialogue sounds like conversation, but is not an exact reproduction of conversation."

4. Good dialogue reveals personality, and characters only very rarely say precisely what they are thinking.

Human beings are not very articulate creatures. Despite all the words at our disposal, words tend to fail us at key moments, and even when we know what we want to say we spend a whole lot of time trying to describe and articulate what we feel without being quite able to do it properly. We misunderstand, overemphasize, underemphasize, grasp at what we mean, and conversations go astray. So when two characters go back and forth explaining precisely what they are feeling or thinking to each other, it doesn't seem remotely real.

Good dialogue is instead comprised of attempts at articulation. There's a whole lot that is kept back, because we humans only rarely really truly put our true feelings out there.

Now, this shouldn't be taken too far and a conversation shouldn't be an endless string of misunderstandings (unless you're Samuel Beckett), but the way in which characters express their feelings and how they articulate what they're feeling is one of the most important ways of revealing character. Are they reserved? Boisterous? Do they bluster? Hold back?

Characters who say exactly what they mean are generic. Characters who talk around their emotions and objectives are much more interesting.

5. Good dialogue goes easy on the exclamations and exhortations.

When a character overuses "Ughs" and "Blechs" they can easily sound petulant. When they overuse exclamations, they can exhaust the reader with their excitability. When they overuse verbal tics and crutches, they can drive the reader crazy.

Interjections and grunts are kind of like carpet cleaning concentrate. They must be diluted or you'll burn a hole in the floor.

6. Good dialogue is boosted by dialogue tags, gestures, and action, so the reader can easily follow who is saying what.

Poor maligned dialogue tags!!! Out there on the Internet it has lately become trendy for people to advocate stripping books of dialogue tags so that the person who is speaking is solely apparent through gestures and context.

This is overkill. Get behind me, dialogue tags, I will defend you until the end!

As long as you mainly stick to said and asked, your reader won't notice they're there, and they'll be way better able to track who is saying what. Yes, don't overdo dialogue tags and look for ways to add meaningful gesture and action to back and forths, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The key on the gesture and action is not to simply use it to break up the dialogue for pacing purposes, but to actually make it meaningful, which is hard to do.

7. Good dialogue is unexpected.

There's nothing worse than reading a stretch of dialogue where the characters are saying precisely what we think they're going to say.

The best dialogue counters our expectations and surprises us.

"Vladimir Putin!"


worldofhiglet said...

...I knew you were going to say that.

Also: gesundheit

Mira said...

Terrific post! Really wonderful, Nathan. I'll re-read this when I write. Very helpful.

And may I say how funny you are. Loved your exposition in #1.

I struggle most with #3. That's tricky - to write in a believable way but not true to life. I'm working on that.

I'm pretty good a #7, though. #7 is fun! :)

Did I say this was good? This is good - thank you!

Kim Batchelor said...

I like to strip out all the attributions, show who's talking in a way that doesn't call too much attention to itself, then add "said" and "asked" back in when it's necessary for clarity. I've judged some contests locally and seen many people use "she said" and "he said" and "he asked" connected to every bit of dialogue, in addition to using other expressions. Very distracting.

aspiring_x said...

thank you for this one nathan! you make things so easy to understand. you've completely helped me with my dialogue woes! :)

StaceyW said...

As for this: "Characters who say exactly what they mean are generic. Characters who talk around their emotions and objectives are much more interesting." So true, and a great way to put it.

I think one of the most interesting things about the way we humans communicate is the disconnect between what we think and what we say - and the major impact it has on our lives. It's one of the main concepts I try to explore in my writing.

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

I find that narrating how I see people act in movies helps with writing dialogue. That way you can really see how you don't have to 'say' how someone feels, you just have to describe their movements, which in turn, let us know how they feel.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Personally, I write the dialogue first, and I do it with screenwriting software so I'm not tempted to add in the action except in sparse amounts.

If you want to write decent dialogue, you have to be a better than decent listener. Movies are your friend. Find a character who "sounds" like the one you want to portray, listen to the flow of their words for a couple of hours until you can superimpose the voice from the movie onto your own character, then let him/her talk.

For example: I find using Cate Blanchet's voice from LoTR works exceptionally well for writing fantasy characters. There's a distant, enchanted tone to the words, and a specific cadence that aids that detachment from the normal "human" conversation.

If you want understated "snark", drag out a few British comedies and get the rhythm right.

Dialogue at its best should sound like music in your head, with you the conductor of the orchestra. You have to figure out which notes blend together.

(And for the love of Pete, please don't write out accents. It makes me want to hit things with sticks.)

Ideally, you should know who's talking without having to be told, just as you'd recognize the voice of a friend on the phone without seeing their face.

JW said...

Wow. I found this most useful and also a little disheartening - as if I know nothing about this writing thing I have a dream of taking on. But, I will have fun and carry forth, keeping all the technical stuff in mind. Question: Do writers have fun while trying to remember the countless technicalities we are supposed to know? Did the really great authors know all the techinicalities? I just want to write! (pout)

Jeffrey Beesler said...

"Don't throw out the baby with the bath water." That is an excellent line which really belongs in story dialogue somewhere. Excellent points all around, Nathan.

swampfox said...

This would be a good time for a dialogue contest!

D.G. Hudson said...

Dialogue sets the scene when I'm writing. It's where I usually start, then I add the other elements. It works for me.

I prefer books with dialogue and dialogue tags, rather than straight narrative which I might skim over.

Once again, I like your style, Nathan, as you defend the dialogue tags!!
Great post.

ryan field said...

"Good dialogue is boosted by dialogue tags, gestures, and action, so the reader can easily follow who is saying what."

I'm glad you posted this explanation. I hope people take it seriously.

I also think it's important when you're in the editing stage to look at dialogue and see if it's really necessary. In other words, if the dialogue can be eliminated and worked into a descriptive paragraph it *sometimes* works better and makes the novel move faster.

And balance between description, narrative, and dialogue is important.

Anonymous said...

I have this theory, and I could be wrong, that people don't use dialogue tags because most don't know how to use them.

They figure it's just easier to not use them and play it safe.

Anonymous said...

Grrrreat Post.

"Eight days a week are not enough to show I care!"

Nathan Bransford said...


I feel like movies can be both friend and foe of the novel writer. I agree that a lot can be learned from movies as so much depends on the script, but at the same time, when people write with a movie in mind they can sometimes end up relying too much on dialogue to carry the scene rather than focusing on the action and emotions. The result is that the novel can end up reading more like a screenplay than a novel.

Mira said...

Swampfox - a dialogue contest? FUN!

Josin L. McQuein said...


It helps that I started with screenwriting before novel writing. You have to learn to tune out the movie and just hear the voices, if that makes any sense at all. (listen, as opposed to watch)


Metropolitan Mum said...

Great post. I am going to post it on the fridge. Even better, I am going to eat it.

M.A.Leslie said...

Hey Nathan,

I agree with your take on good vs. bad dialog, but I am still trying to figure the whole going from scrub writer to published writer thing out. What has been scaring me the most lately is the dialog that I have been adding to my novel is more to make it longer than to add to the story. The story is already there, the plot is in place, the characters are defined and strong, but the word count is lighter then the average bear. To battle this I have been going through and adding additional tidbits and dialog. I am just scared that I am getting to a point that I am taking something that worked and destroying it just to make it longer and marketable. Any thoughts?

M.A. Leslie

K.L. Brady said...

Great post! I'm like Josin, I listen to movie dialogue a lot but my agent called me on it and said it read like a screenplay (but a darn good one). lol

(BTW - Love the Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir. Saw the original in the Phillips Collection. Makes you wonder what they were saying while they were gettin' their eat on. lol)

hannah said...

I tend to err on the side of too realistic and too meandering when it comes to dialogue. Which is fine by me. Ever since I read WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, I've been convinced this can be done very well.

My main gripe with dialogue, and what I think can make it read as very false, is when characters respond too directly to what the other one says. In real life, people don't listen well. They've already formulated most of what they're going to say before they've heard the other person's side of the conversation.

People in books pay too much attention to each other. In real life, people just want to hear themselves talk.

Adding elements of that realism to dialogue can really make it more interesting, I've found.

Stephanie Barr said...

I LOVE good dialog. Perhaps better than anything. I also think this is all good advice.

I am, however, not in the "only said" camp. I told you why the linked article.

Nathan Bransford said...


Good thoughts. I think my perspective in this post is probably skewed a bit because I write genre fiction, and hopefully people will take this post with a grain of salt as such. There's much more room for meandering and realistic dialogue in more literary works. I wouldn't advocate stripping that away, because in many literary works the verisimilitude is what makes it work.

Polenth said...

You can't take away my exclamation marks! I need them!


Rachel said...

This is excellent and very apposite to my needs. Thank you so much!

Joann Swanson said...

Yes x 7! Fantastic post.

Joanna St. James said...

#7 very eye opening am going to write some unexpected dialogue in my MS and see how it turns out

Jess Tudor said...

Love this! (Now this is uber helpful and necessary. *wink*)

So I was formulating a post on dialogue. :scraps it and points everyone here:

B. A. Binns said...

This is why I always start my first draft with the dialog, and spend my edits cutting the dialog down to find the real meat underneath. Dialog makes or breaks books that I read and write. There is a reason it's called dialog instead of conversation.

Although, on occasion, when I let my characters say exactly what they want to, I myslef end up surprised by the insights I find.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Sir Bransford, but you forgot something:
Not to be overused, but not to be forgotten!

Maggie Dana said...

Effective fiction dialogue is what we'd like to imagine our real-life dialogue to be, but never is.

maine character said...

For a fun exercise, I tried to come up with an example that showed every point.

Version 1

“Hey, there’s a big green dragon swooping down on us. You know, that one you just woke up by poking it with your stupid sword?"
“I see him, yay, and forsooth, whoa, and gosh-darn-it, you are correct.”
“You know, cough... cough... sorry – pretzel stuck in my throat – um, what was I saying? Oh yeah, this is odd ‘cause I heard dragons are not usually active this time of year.”
“I believe such behavior stems from their reptilian nature. I’ve seen it in lizards as well.”
“I’m scared. What shall we do about this?”
“Perhaps we should run.”

Version 2

“Oh, frack!" said Pippin. "That dragon’s on our ass!”
Bilbo stared up at the clouds, where the monstrous form soared down like a demon. “Crap!”
Pippin ran for the forest. “You woke him up! You deal with him!”
Bilbo patted his vest, his pants... “Oh, come on, magic ring... c’mon...

lara dunning said...

Great article, its going into my favorites!

Melanie said...

Bad dialogue, particularly of the #1 variety, grates on me more than most other writing issues because I hear dialogue while reading more clearly than I hear narration. When it doesn't sound right, it breaks the dream that good fiction creates.

One question/observation, and maybe you just covered this with your literary fiction caveat, Nathan, but D.H. Lawrence's dialogue in WOMEN IN LOVE struck me as... lingering and surprisingly centered around ideas more than typical book conversations. I wasn't bored by it, but I hadn't before seen such time spent on long passages of dialogue where the conflict is mostly in differing opinions rather than something more central to the present action. Sometimes I think my own dialogue scenes run long, or that my characters wax philosophical too much, but then I think of Lawrence... Maybe it worked then and wouldn't work as well now? Just curious about your/anyone else's thoughts on this.

Bane of Anubis said...

Used to like writing dialogue, but now it's definitely a thorn in my side because, IMO, it's the easiest spiral-out-of-control element when writing scenes. Keeping dialogue tight, while assigning character, flavor, and plot takes far more effort than I once believed.

Sarah said...

I think Miss Snark called exposition-heavy dialog "
As you know, Bob."

"As you know, Bob, this past decade has been very difficult for me, beginning with with moment when I realized I'd never make it as a professional accordion player."

Now my critique group uses AYKB to label that kind of dialog mistake.

CB ICE said...

I enjoy writing dialogue. After I finish my children's manuscript, I'm heading for screenplays and stage plays.

Nathan Bransford said...


And that is why Miss Snark's blog is the best of them all. "As you know Bob" is genius!!

Sierra McConnell said...

I'm going through ten and eleven with beta notes and one of the things that's worrying me right now is moments where "Carmine doing this" and "Thomas doing that" are at. There are great chunks of paragraphs where things are happening, but people have told me before that if it's a new person a new paragraph is needed, so in dialogue, it looks really...simplistic.

And I'm a person who loves to write big paragraphs. Read them? Not so much. Which is weird. I've always hated writing dialogue because I think people should get inside a characters head more. You need to understand why they hate pickle relish so much that they're repulsed by it's very presence. Dialogue explaining it is one thing, but a rushing flood of emotion and fear at it being on a table at a friend's dinner is another thing! It's more fun and higher word count! It makes you FEEL.

And I agree with all who are happy you speak of dialogue. It's like you're reading our minds. I need to buy tin foil or something.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Great advice, especially about characters being too clear about what they mean to say.

And amen on sticking to not throwing out "said" and "asked".

Melody said...

Thanks, Nathan!
This was very helpful. Not maybe what I *wanted* to read...but exactly what I *needed* to read. :) Keep it up!

Sheryl Gwyther said...

What does one say to an editor who insists one should 'get rid of the 'he saids, she saids'?

Carol Riggs said...

Noooo! Argh, I may be guilty of a little carpet burning. Grumble, ack! Darn! But thanx for the post; I've copied this post into a Word doc for later ref (though I should hang it on my wall).

teacherwriter said...

Then my writing must be a frigging opera! Dialogue is my favorite part :-)

LaylaF said...

I love writing dialogue and you're right, it's not always as easy as you'd think it should be.

Your advice is right on target.

But, I have a crazy question about punctuation and capitalization with dialog, (which I thought I knew from high school English until my computer Word program started correcting me)... and that is whether and when to capitalize or not; and how and where to punctuate when using "said" or "asked" etc.

I've been fighting with my Word program over this and sometimes, the Word program is winning and it's driving me crazy or at least its slowing down my writing pace.

Again, thanks for all the great advice.

Marilyn Peake said...

I like how you say that "Good dialogue has a purpose and builds toward something." I love observing how that happens in well-written novels. I’ve noticed recently that some really great writers don’t even bother adding quotation marks, but instead just insert dialogue seamlessly, like building blocks toward a larger whole. I’ve noticed that technique in THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy, THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE by Aimee Bender, and TINKERS by Paul Harding. I just finished reading TINKERS at 3:00 in the morning. It’s a breathtaking, beautifully written novel, in which dialogue without quotation marks was even inserted at times right in the middle of paragraphs, but the overall building toward something larger was achieved magnificently.

I’m now reading FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen. He uses quotation marks, but nails the essence of conversations. He really is a brilliant writer.

I love how, in CLOUD ATLAS, David Mitchell wrote each section with a different genre and its own unique linguistic style. My favorite chapter in that novel is "Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After" in which Mitchell created his own post-apocalyptic language. I found the dialogue in that section fascinating.

Lillian Grant said...

Don't stone me, but I never use dialogue tags. They just don't seem to fit with my writing style which is very visual.

Marilyn Peake said...

A few people mentioned not using dialogue tags. I only add them when needed, and do without them when it's clear who's talking. It's most natural for me to write paragraphs in ways that make it clear who's talking, so I rarely need dialogue tags.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading books out loud to my adult daughter in the hospital recently.
What I've found in that is that I've had to ADD dialogue tags or she would never have known who was talking.
Whereas minimal dialogue tags may be trendy and more acceptable in some current circles, it is more work if the reader has to keep trying to figure out who is talking.
This is especially so when there are more than two characters talking or if the characters are indistinguishable* in the language they use.
*This is another point. Characters should hopefully have their own ways of talking.

Jodie Renner Editing said...

Excellent points, Nathan! I'm really glad I found your blog. I write a blog with advice for fiction writers, too, and it's great to see "my" tips and ideas (I actually pick most of them up from my reading) backed up by more credible people like you!
Will check back frequently. (And excuse the exclamation marks - old habits die hard!)

JDuncan said...

Hmmm, I resemble some of these remarks. Notably number two. Very good post here, Nathan. Personally, I like writing dialogue. Sometimes though, I like it too much, and my characters talk right through what they should be doing or thinking on the page. A lot of my edits are of the "this bit of conversation doesn't actually accomplish anything" variety, and as you have pointed out to me already, it tends to kill whatever tension and/or conflict you are trying to build. This isn't to say that dialogue can't effectively carry out conflict and tension, because it can, but writers should certainly be aware of just how easy it is to slip into the habit of letting the characters ramble on longer than necessary.

Chuck H. said...

Thanx. I needed that.

Ishta Mercurio said...

See, THIS is one of the reasons we need agents. I would happily fork over 15-20% to someone on my team who knows this stuff and can articulate it so well and has my novel in their hands.

I'm glad you mentioned that good dialogue needs action and gestures and tags to back it up and flesh it out. It is hard to do, but I agree that it's better with those things. And I also appreciated the note that good dialogue has to go somewhere; it's a good thing to bear in mind whenever I'm writing a scene.

Josin: you can get Screenwriting software? I never knew that. Cool!

sally apokedak said...

heh heh

I'm reading along in my email and I get to this bit with Vladimir Putin and I think, "How odd. The email must have malfunctioned and cut off the post."

But, surprise, surprise...

Deepa Seshadri said...

Awesome post! Now i need to re-read my chapters. lol

howdidyougetthere said...

Ex. #1 of bad dialogue sounds like a 30 Rock script, which I love.

My struggle sometimes is that, as a comedy or humor writer, my use of bad dialogue is on purpose.

Hopefully it's so evident that my reader (who may be an agent/publisher) *gets* it.

Any thoughts on how that can go wrong in the 1st 30 pages?
Cheers, Kristi

Whirlochre said...

Glad to hear someone sticking up for the humble dialogue tag. If this craze for stripping continues, we'll need to deploy the services of Period Locators in the future. Plus, we'll all be naked.

Conor Neill said...

I used to build multimedia learning environments and began working with movie directors in an effort to increase the realism (and thus learning) of the learning environments. One movie director explained something that I will never forget.

He said that movies do not try to create a version of reality. Great movies are "heightened reality". Normal life, normal dialogue, is mundane and plodding... Great movies flow from exciting action to intriguing deep dialogue to new discovery about lead character... in a way that is not real, but is how our minds imagine (and maybe how dreams are structured?).

Gerri said...

RE: the dialogue tags.

I firmly disagree that writers should limit themselves to said and asked. Dialogue tags are a useful tool in a writer's toolbox. If I can convey a characterization in one word that would otherwise take three or more words, I'm going to do so. Shout, shriek, holler, howl, yell, bellow, yowl...they all convey different volume levels and characterizations. Likewise, mumble, mutter, and whisper all convey an array of attitudes that can be useful to a writer.

Can dialogue tags be abused? Of course! Most of the time, characters merely say something, and using said is appropriate. But part of the training to become a better writer is to find that personal balance of too much vs. just right. This piece of advice is too harsh and in its own way, just as damaging as any other absolutism that comes out of an authority's mouth. Or fingers as is appropriate.

Julie Kingsley said...

"Interjections and grunts are kind of like carpet cleaning concentrate. They must be diluted or you'll burn a hole in the floor."

Love that! I'm writing a middle grade boy futuristic adventure and I'm finding I have some grunts, but I think they might be coming from me. Not sure.

I wrote a blog post on how watching the Housewives of New Jersey can teach you effective dialogue beats. Ever heard those ladies fight?

Lorenda said...

Ah, Samuel Beckett - I'm still Waiting [for the point] of Godot.

The Red Angel said...

Thanks for this guide, Nathan! It'll be very helpful for me in the future because sometimes I write poor dialogue that falls into Rule #1 (dialogue shouldn't tell too much), and then even I get bored of it.

Great advice!


Kathy McIntosh said...

Good stuff. Loved the carpet cleaner example. I recently read a Robert Parker novel in which no one asked a question, they said the questions. Glad to see you approve of asking.

Dan said...

"Dr. Goosepimple, I'd like you to meet Mr. Hardwick. He'll be your security chief for the expedition."

"We're peaceable scientists and we know how to comport ourselves in the jungle. We don't need to be escorted by armed men."

"Yes, but the enigmatic Baron Van Sinster is funding your research, and he believes security is a top priority."

"I spent seventeen years in the bush, Doctor. And you may think you know your way around the woods, but these ain't like any woods you've ever seen. There are guerrillas, gorillas, and space-panthers. There are mosquitoes with six-foot wingspans."

"Do you even know anything about our research?"

"I'm just paid to shoot things."

"Wonderful. We'll have to stop periodically and explain what we are doing to you and tell you what our incomprehensible jargon means."

"And I'll probably have to tell you about my guns, so that when the attached grenade launcher on my H&K MP5 becomes relevant to the story later, the reader will already be aware of it."

"Yes. It seems our ignorance of each other's specializations is going to be a helpful expository device."

"I think we shall be the best of friends."

Nathan Bransford said...


I should have said "mainly" said and asked. I agree that sometimes it's fine to deviate, though I still believe deviations should be used sparingly and only when truly necessary.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Good advice, thanks. :)

Jude Hardin said...

Mostly good advice, although I do dispense of dialogue tags altogether whenever possible. Here's an exchange I wrote this morning:

My shirttails hid the little .38 strapped to my waist. I unlatched the deadbolt and opened the door. “Can I help you?”

“Mind if we come in for a minute?” the skinny one said.

“Who are you?”

“We work at Moe’s. In the kitchen. I’m Lester, and this here’s Earl.”

“What do you want?”

“We just want to talk. We overheard you talking about the Harvest Angels. We have some information you might be interested in.”

“The room’s a mess. Hang on. Let me get my jacket and I’ll step out there with you.”

“Come on, mister. It’s cold as shit out here. And what we have to say needs to be said in private. If you know what I mean.”

“Like I said, let me grab my coat and I’ll--”

That’s when the fat one named Earl bulldozed into me, driving me backwards into the room. I landed on my ass. He straddled me and pinned my wrists to the floor. He was enormous. I couldn’t move.

I only used one tag, but I don't think there's any confusion as to who's speaking. Is there?

heather said...

I was sure I was wrong (as I surely was) but I smiled as you mentioned Samuel Beckett because the first thing I thought of was Quantum Leap.

Oh boy.


Anna said...

I'm a big fan of your "You might also like..." that are now at the bottom of your posts. I just checked out "What writing and lying have in common." Love it!

Nancy said...

Well, I finally discovered my one problem with writing dialogue. I DO always say what I mean, exactly what I mean. If I realize I've made a verbal error, I will stop and correct myself. It's become a running joke with my friends. I know that most people are not so straightforward, but I never translated it into writing dialogue.

J. T. Shea said...

'As you know, Bob,' said Basil Exposition, 'we are both human beings, intelligent primates, living on Earth, a vast rocky sphere orbiting the Sun, an even vaster ball of incandescent gas, itself revolving and orbiting amid countless similar balls, formed billions of years ago from the primordial stuff of the Universe...'

'No, I didn't know that,' said the other intelligent primate when Basil finally stopped speaking, 'and my name's not Bob!'

premkumarrao said...

Thanks for some great tips. I also learnt that conversations should be in line with the character. However punchy that line may sound,would that character speak that way?

Babylon Rising said...

@Hanna -thanks for the comment about dialog, Hanna. I thought I was being lazy when I had one character respond with something completely off the wall instead of a direct response to what was said. I'm a little ADD, and I do that quite often when someone is talking. It isn't that I'm not paying attention, it's that whatever the person said triggered either a memory or a thought, and if I don't follow-up on it, I lose that that thought completely. It might reappear days later! But I'm happy to know that my characters can respond as they will, while contemplating what was actually said to them.

may the pop be with you said...

You give great advice, here, especially your point about dialogue tags. Sometimes, people try to either eliminate them or switch them up from "said" and "asked" and end up having the opposite effect from what they intended.

may the pop be with you said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carla Marvin said...

Fantastic post, very helpful! Thank you!

Bought my copy of Jacob Wonderbar and loving it so far, so wanted to let you know :)

Heather said...

I am writing my first dialogue in my composition class next week. I'm just a little nervous about it. I'm writing about a conversation between 2 people with a social problem. One character is the problem and the other is the solution. I can make up a characters. I'm just now learning proper writing skills and have no clue where to begin....any thoughts? Thanks-Heather

Kely Leiter said...

This is such a helpful article that I think all new writers would get a lot out of, so I recommended it on my blog for beginning writers.
Thank you for sharing!

Linnette R Mullin said...

Great post! :D


this's helped me more on developing my movie dialogues!
Thanx Nathan,I'ii always 'read yo brain!'

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