Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Another tip for dialogue

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Tuesday so far! As fun as it's been to partner with you guys on my latest project, I'm excited to get back to talking about the craft of writing. And I always love talking about dialogue.

In a class I took from bestselling author Rachel Hauck, she said "the story happens between the quotes." Use your dialogue as a tool to share your story.

A tip for improving your dialogue is to not let your characters respond to everything said to them. Back and forth dialogue - where everything is addressed directly - is really boring to read.

"How are you today?"
"Good. How are you?"
"Good. What do you think of my haircut?"
"I like it. Did Carol cut it?"
"Yes. She does a nice job."
"Yes she does."

Yawn, right?

Here's a couple techniques for combating snoozy dialogue:

1. Use silence

I love when a character is silent and gets completely misunderstood. As in the example below:

“You seemed really excited about moving,” I say. “Since we got here, though, you kinda act like you’re dreading it.”

Mom sighs yet again. “Have you ever wanted something so badly, yet also, somehow equally, not wanted it?”

Palmer’s handsome face fills my mind, first the sparkle of his gray eyes, the mischievous curl of his mouth. And then I think of a few days ago in his car, of the weak guy—April’s boyfriend—who sat beside me.

“Well, someday I’m sure you’ll experience it,” Mom says to my silence.

2. Answer a question with a question

This can be done a variety of ways. The example below is the "change of subject" variety:

“You okay?” Palmer’s studying me. “Usually my Ms. Purdon impression kills.”

“Sorry. I’m distracted, I guess.”

“By my charm?” He winks.

I turn away, unwilling to flirt back. Before Rachel, it might have been different. “Do you know why Chase did what he did?”

He blinks at me, appearing thrown off by the subject change. “What?”

Rather than changing the subject, you can also just turn the tables. So instead of the above, it would read:

"By my charm?" He winks.

"You really think you're that irresistible?"

Gabby's still not answering the question, and now she's put Palmer in the hot seat.

Give these a try and see if they don't add complexity to your scenes. Dialogue often works best when people aren't saying what they really mean. Though the scenes where people are finally saying exactly what they mean work great too. More on that another time.

Have a writing question? E-mail me.


  1. Love the examples. Makes me want to read the book. Is this one out yet?

  2. Thank you! No, this is the one in progress at the moment, the one about the girl who's writing a book of her own.

  3. I love the way you presented this dialog lesson! I learned something!


  4. Thank you, Rachel! I could have sat in your Book Therapy class for a looooong time!

  5. Wow this is awesome!
    This helped me! lol, I was just looking over a book I'm editing right now and I saw how dry some of the dialogues were... it was awful and embarrassing.

  6. Jazmine, it happens to the best of us!