Here’s a different approach. We are going to spend the week discussing dialogue, so we start with this — the explanation of dialogue in dialogue format.

Mr. Goins sat in his office, tapping his desk with the tip of his pen. It was coming up on 9:15, and Martin was late for the meeting, again. A loud bang on the door startled Mr. Goins, and he had to clear his throat before speaking.

“Come in,” he said, covering his mouth with his fist as he coughed.

“Sorry, I’m late, Mr. Goins, I got caught at the water cooler. Crazy stuff happening today.”

“You haven’t seen he last of it,” said Mr. Goins, looking over his glasses.

“I’m sure. I haven’t.”

“So you scheduled this meeting with me. Now get on with it.”

Martin rubbed his forehead briskly and sighed. “I know you keep telling me this, but I’m still trying to figure it out. As one of your newest writers, how can I create compelling dialogue?”

“I’d hardly call seven months new,” he mumbled. “But, nevertheless, compelling dialogue has a point. It moves the story forward, and it reveals something about your characters. How many times do you have to hear this before you get it right? And fix your tie. This is an office, not a club.”

“Sorry, Mr. Goins. It’s just hard for me to write if I’m not comfortable.”

“And it’s even harder to write when you’re not writing,” Mr. Goins said sternly. “Dialogue,” he continued, “is artificial language. It’s not real, like the way that you and I banter back and forth like two squabbling little pigeons. But it is a way to convey your story through the experiences of the characters, rather than through the mono-prose of the narrative.”


Mr. Goins sighed and sipped his coffee, savoring the taste, but becoming annoyed. “Yes. Mono-prose. The voice of the narrative that, when left uninterrupted, leaves the reader feeling like she doesn’t know about the characters at all. We need dialogue so that we can experience the characters more fully. You should know this by now. I suppose being a sniveling little idiot does have its disadvantages, does it not?”

“I wouldn’t refer to myself as an idiot.”

“Then not only are you a terrible writer, but you lack sound judgement also.”

“Are you implying something, Mr. Goins.”

“No. But I’ll state it clearly. You’re an unanalytical imbecile, the likes of which my company does not employ. So, straggly-bearded-and-unbuttoned-shirt-collared Martin. Consider today, your last.”

Notice the manner at which there is always something happening with the dialogue. The sense of calm that Mr. Goins feels piques as Martin asks questions that he should already know the answers to. These types of dialogue cues are essential for good character conversation.


  1. mariathermann

    My favourite crime writer Reginald Hill is an absolute master at conveying the character of his protagonists via dialogue. He hardly ever describes what people look like, but we know EXACTLY what they’re like from the way in which they communicate with others. Thanks for this post – I’m currently doing a review of someone’s book and wished they’d read your post before commiting words to a page…sigh.

    1. William Stadler Post author

      Thanks, Maria. I appreciate the compliment. And yeah, reading dead dialogue is awful. I should never long for prose whenever I read dialogue. But there have been edits that I have read where the conversation is just terrible, terrible, terrible.


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