Friday, April 16, 2010

Creating Heart-Grabbing Dialogue

“Dialogue is my forte. Whether that is because I am an actor or merely talented in that regard I have no idea. Nor do I care. When I write, I always feel like I am just taking dictation-following the characters around and writing down what they say.”
~Dirk Benedict

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where a certain scene between two people completely moved you to tears? Maybe the conversation made you laugh yourself silly, put you on the edge of your seat, or even made you stop and think. That's heart-grabbing dialogue. That kind of dialogue is what makes stories so real and touching.

It's not just what the author writes that touches the reader, it's what the characters say. It's how you have them express the way they feel. Many authors will tell you that to be a good writer you must read, read, read. I believe that is true, but I think it's also very helpful to watch movies. One thing that has really helped me with writing dialogue has been taking notes during the movies that I watch. What makes a powerful dialogue scene in movies so strong? How does the diversity of characters contribute to the uniqueness of the story? Watch the character's facial expressions, their gestures, body language, etc. Make sure to take good notes and include what you have learned by watching movies into your dialogue.

Each scene should contribute to the plot of the story, not weigh it down. While you're editing, try to delete as many pointless dialogue lines as you can. Make sure your dialogue is realistic, but don't make it so real that the readers get bored and put the book down.

How can you tell if the dialogue is slowing the story down or moving it forward? Ask yourself these questions:

Is my dialogue...

  • helping to develop my characters? The best way to have your characters developed are through dialogue, since you are showing the reader their personality without having to tell them about it. If the character is funny, then prove it by what they say. If they're bossy, then don't just tell that to the reader, let them experience it for themselves. Also, make sure that the way you have your characters talk match their personality as well. If your protagonist is uneducated then he/she may use slang in their speech, and their vocabulary probably won't be as sharp as an intelligent character's would. Here are some great tips to keep in mind while choosing the diction for your characters:
  • creating conflict? Without dialogue, it's almost impossible for a conflict to take place in your story. Remember there can be minor conflicts, such as the protagonist being late for school. Then there is the big conflict which takes place during the climax of the story. This should create the biggest turning point in your story for your protagonist, so make sure to especially avoid short-talk dialogue during this part.
  • too dragged out? Make sure that pointless dialogue, such as short-talk, is cut out from your story. Keep the readers interested in what is happening. Make sure to include enough action as well. You do not want you readers to become bored or confused.
  • showing instead of telling? Some people may think it's almost impossible to “tell” in dialogue when you use quotation marks, but this is not true. Speech tags should be only used when necessary. Instead of saying “she gasped”, you could say “her jaw dropped as she slowly backed away from him”. Don't forget to use the notes you take during movies to help you choose which body gestures to add throughout your dialogue.
  • including background information? Dialogue is a great tool to provide the reader with necessary background information. Instead of telling the reader during the first chapter that the protagonist is a detective, you could have one of the characters let the reader know this by bringing it up in dialogue. For example: “Ever since you were hired to investigate the murder, you've been prying into every detail of my personal life.” Remember to be sure that the background information contributes to the story. Don't have a character talk about the protagonist's dead Grandma if that's not part of the plot or character development.
  • helping my protagonist to grow? Characters learn from each other through dialogue. Think of Landon from “A Walk To Remember”. The conversations he had with Jamie eventually turned him into a completely different person. By creating this kind of dialogue you can help your readers grow as well. Just be sure not to make your characters too preachy or the only thing that will grow is the reader's annoyance.
Of course there can be endless questions someone could ask themselves when editing or writing dialogue, but what are some things you try to keep in mind? Which book or movie included your favorite heart-grabbing conversation? Why do you think it touched you?

“To me, all writing is like music. And especially dialogue.”
-Dirk Benedict


  1. Thanks so much for this! I really enjoyed it, and its so helpful too!

  2. I've been focusing on strengthening my dialogue lately, so I appreciate this post! Perfect timing - thanks! :-)

  3. Tessa, I read a book that really helped me learn dialogue better. It's called "From Where You Dream" and it's written by a cinematographer/author. In other words, he really knew how to create the kind of visual in words that he was able to create on screen. It helped me think and write in pictures too and has made a huge difference to me. With my journalism background, it was more about facts. Writing more visually has been an awesome discovery for me. Appreciate your thoughts on this too. :)

  4. Seriously, wow!

    That post was amazing. I'm pretty good with dialogue. It may be that I'm as big a movie big, as a bookaholic.

  5. Loved this post :) Dialogue is probably my favorite part to write. My favorite part about dialogue is when two characters tease each other and verbally spar, bringing some humor to the story. It's not a movie or book, but one of my favorite examples of dialogue is between Rick Castle ad Kate Beckett in the TV show, Castle. Love it! :)

  6. Tessa, nice job. You're so "write" about dialogue. Definitely helps to be an actor.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog-hope you love suspense too. Ever watched WAIT UNTIL DARK? As actor, I'll bet that ones gets the blood pumping. Can't wait to see your name penned across the bottom of a book. Be blessed in all you write.

  7. A Hopeful Romantic: You’re welcome! Thanks for visiting. =)

    Jennifer: Thank you!

    Roxane: I’ve been looking for a book that could help specifically with dialogue, so I’ll have to buy that one. Thanks for recommending it to me.

    Claire: Same with me. Some people would rather read books than watch movies, and others vice versa – but I think I’m stuck in between. :) Thanks for your comment!

    Mia: I’ll have to watch that show sometime. My favorite part about writing dialogue is also when the characters bring humor verbally. That’s why it’s so important to create diverse characters that each have a different sense of humor. Thanks for commenting!

    Linda: I’m sort of picky about the suspense books that I read. I usually only read the type of books that I would write, and I can’t exactly see myself writing suspense one day. But who knows! God may change my desire. :) I’ve never seen that movie, but you’re right, being an actor definitely helps – which is odd, considering my two main passions are writing and acting. Thanks so much for your comment!

  8. Dialogue is the one area where I feel I struggle so this post was definitely timely. Very good!!

    I observe conversations in real life a lot. So much so that I end up being like the close talker from Seinfeld who'd stand like inches from your face during a conversation. Dialogue is a powerful tool and I hope to strengthen my own in future.

  9. Carrie @

    This is a very helpful post. How do you know all this stuff?? :) Im still growing in the dialogue department. I especially appreciate your tip about speech tags--I didnt realize I was doing that sometimes. Thanks for spelling it out.

  10. I am amazed at how much great information you gave here! Excellent. Ok,I'm not knocking your age, I am just very impressed with your knowledge and understanding of writing and I know you are going to do wonderful!! My daughter who is 25 still emails me her work to edit!LOL

  11. Great checklist. Personally, I find dialogue one of the easiest and most fun parts of fiction. It tends to flow during the creative process, although it requires intensive editing later.


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