Talk Dialogue

  • Dialogue has to sound like speech, but it can’t be a mere transcript. It has to be more consice and revealing. Also avoid too much faithfulness to speech: “Um, uh, y’know, geez, well, like, well.”
  •  Good dialogue has several functions: To convey exposition: to tell us, through the conversations of the characters, what we need to know to make sense of the story.
  • Good dialogue has several functions: To convey character: to show us what kinds of people we’re dealing with.
  • Good dialogue has several functions: To convey a sense of place and time: to evoke the speech patterns, vocabulary and rhythms of specific kinds of people.
  • Good dialogue has several functions:To develop conflict: to show how some people use language to dominate others, or fail to do so


  •   Don’t use dialogue to explain the obbvous:

“We’ll be in Vancouver in thirty minutes,” the flight attendant said. “It’s Canada’s biggest west coast city, with a population of over a million in the metropolitan area.”

  •  Dialogue can convey character, but the writer may bog down in chatter that doesn’t advance the story.

“When I was a kid,” said Julie, “I had a stuffed bear named Julius. He was a sweet old thing, and whenever I was upset I’d howl for him.”

(Unless Julie is going to howl for Julius when her husband leaves her, this kind of remark is pointless.)

  •  Dialogue that conveys a specific place and time can become exaggerated and stereotyped:

“Pretty hot ootside, eh?” remarked Sergeant Renfrew of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Good day to get oot of the hoose and oot on the saltchuck, eh? Catch us a couple of skookum salmon, eh?”

  •  Dialogue that develops conflict has to do so while also conveying exposition, portraying character, and staying true to the time and place:

“No, I’m not going to wait. I want this question settled as quickly as possible.” He continued to eat, as though what they were discussing wasn’t affecting him in the slightest. “We dock at Cabo in the morning. You and I will go ashore, find a lab and have the DNA test done.”

“You’re not testing my baby!”



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