Learn to write dialog properly

Goodness me, how presumptuous is this title — who am I to preach about writing dialog properly?  Let me tell you something for sure; if you don’t write your dialog properly your manuscript will be returned.  If you’re very lucky it will only be for re-editing, as opposed to being rejected out of hand.

The fact is there are at least two aspects to writing dialog.  First is the purely mechanical part — in other words how should you punctuate the dialog according to the rules of grammar?

On Superhero Nation

A more challenging problem, and one which I confess I don’t feel I’ve fully mastered is to make your dialog interesting and compelling for the reader (you, as the author, presumably found it interesting or you wouldn’t have written it — but is it as interesting for the poor sap who has to read it?).  Here are a couple of links for you to take a look at, but another thing you can do is to research authors who are well known for writing good dialog, and check out how they do it.

Novel Writing Help (this covers some punctuation too)

Daily Writing Tips

By the way, more than one of you maybe thinking “Hmmm…this guy needs to take some of his own advice!” And I would agree with you.  My books were written over a long period of time, and as the old adage goes; you never stop learning!


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One Response to Learn to write dialog properly

  1. “A more challenging problem, and one which I confess I don’t feel I’ve fully mastered is to make your dialog interesting and compelling for the reader.” Here are the most common pitfalls I’ve seen there from the manuscripts I read:

    –The dialogue involves too much chatting (e.g. exchanging niceties which don’t advance the plot or develop something distinctive and important about the character). Is anything at stake in the conversation? If not, I’d generally recommend reworking or removing it.

    –Too much of the conversation doesn’t actually develop characters or advance the plot. For example, having the characters exchange names (“I’m John Serra.” “Hi, I’m Megan”) is usually unnecessary and/or can enhanced to develop the characters in ways besides just telling us what their names are. In contrast, something like “Hi, are you John Serra?” “You a cop?” would show that John is paranoid, prickly, and probably a criminal.

    –The characters talk to each other but don’t actually interact. (E.g. one character asks questions and the other character giving information in an 100% helpful/cooperative way. In contrast, it’d probably be more interesting if (say) the information-giver is reluctant to help and/or potentially unreliable and/or expects something in return — this gives the reader something to mentally interact with). Even a bit of conflict can help a lot…

    –The conversation just recounts what has already happened. I’d generally recommend focusing on events moving forward.

    –“As you know, Bob” — characters speaking unnaturally about stuff they already know for the benefit of readers. If characters are talking about stuff they already know, you can make the dialogue feel more natural with implication.

    –The author rarely if ever puts any depth into the conversations. For example, do characters ever have concerns they are unwilling or unable to explicitly talk about? (E.g. if the protagonist’s boss has made a very bad decision, how does the character go about getting him to reconsider the decision without explicitly telling him he made a mistake?) Is there ever anything going on beneath the surface of the conversation?

    –The dialogue covers too much information the reader already knows. If it isn’t new to readers, I’d recommend being very brief.

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