Dialogue used to be a VERY VERY tough thing for me to write, and I certainly will not say that I have arrived, especially when I hear people read their dialogue aloud and it’s compelling in so many ways. But, I had to work at it, and I will say that I’m getting better.

One technique that helped me was the idea of moving your characters around — especially during elaborate stretches of dialogue. It’s important to remember that even though your characters are having a conversation, each one needs to have movement from time to time, and the setting still remains important. We don’t want our characters talking in blank white space. But we would rather them be surrounded by the moonlight, and the castle, and the babbling stream. Whatever it is. Plant them down every now and then.

Here is an example that shows how characters’ actions can change the scene.


“You’ve never looked so beautiful, Stacy.”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“You might want to choose your words more wisely next time.”
“So there’ll be a next time?”

See how you get the sense that the two of them are flirting. I’m not using any tags because I want their actions to speak for themselves, rather than to have the tags speak: yelled, screamed, said, etc. Now, I am going to take the same conversation and fill it in.

“You’ve never looked so beautiful, Stacy.” He pushed her hair back and gazed into her eyes.

“Never?” She smacked his hand away and stormed into the kitchen.

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

Pounding her hand against the counter, she peered at him. “You might want to choose your words more wisely next time.”

“So there’ll be a next time?” He pleaded with her, but his tone was uncertain.

Now the same flirtatious scene has transformed into an argument where Stacy is offended by the guy’s remark. Your novel can have these same cues. Take your compelling dialogue and liven it up with character responses. Now you have real people having real conversations…err…dialogue.

Notice how I don’t have to say that she yelled or screamed or hollered, but her actions express her tone. “Those verbs” aren’t bad. In fact, they help. But don’t let “those verbs” always take precedence over your characters’ actions.

3 thoughts on “WHERE YOU AT

  1. Joe Pineda

    I think it’s only the so-called “commercial” writers that get to speed up dialog with the he-said-she-said routine; still, even writing that kind of dialogue takes skills. Since each line becomes basically a “turn” you never get lost or wonder who said what.

    Personally, I think not spicing up the narrative with these dynamics you explained helps in situations where the dialogue is meant to be rushed, frantic. Otherwise, it’s like people speak too fast in your novel all the time.

    1. William Stadler Post author

      You’re right Joe. I much prefer the option of choosing the pace of my dialogue with snapbacks and slow downs based on the the narration that I choose to include. I feel that it gives the characters more personality, and it shows that they think and process.


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