How to Write Dialogue–One Year to a Writing Life Lesson #6

Dialogue–lots written about writing dialogue in lots of places; I think because writing dialogue seems easy but is, in fact, pretty tough.  From what I’ve read, it appears that we speak hesitatingly and half-heartedly but when we write as if we are speaking, we need to do so with bold succinctness.  

Tiberghien puts dialogue under the area of craft and that’s good because craft is skill and skill is something that can be learned and developed.  There’s no mystery to it and no one either has it or doesn’t have it.  We can all develop skill–if we practice.  

“Good dialogue enlightens the reader.  Bad dialogue blocks the reader.”  I know this is true!  I’ve simply skipped the dialogue in some books it’s so boring.  Dialogue has got to move the story forward, it can’t stop it in its tracks.  As Tiberghien says, dialogue gives “life to the characters and to what is happening, making the story more dramatic. . . .”  

There are three kinds of dialogue:

  • direct:  two or more characters speaking together, directly to each other.  
  • indirect:  a character speaking to himself 
  • hidden:  everything else–the gestures, hesitations, repetitions, glances, subtext, which is sometimes more powerful than words.  

What makes for good dialogue?  

  • it reveals the characters (personalities, styles, goals)
  • it advances the plot (moving the action along)
  • it contributes to the tone (atmosphere–lending intimacy and presence)

And one more tip that I’ve seen in everything I’ve ever read about writing dialogue:  use “he said, she said.”  Don’t throw in adverbs you don’t need and don’t try to be fancy about how he said it–just say he said it.

“A simple and direct statement is always best,” she said.

“Oh, I agree,” he said.  

“Do you?  Is that what you’ve found?” 

“Always.”

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