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May 18, 2016 / catherinebwrites



ALICE  peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

 Alice was right.   Conversations make reading interesting…. if they’re well written.

But the words that every editor dreads are:

“I’m very good at dialogue”

It usually means that I’m good at replicating normal conversation.   Unfortunately, most normal conversation, when you write it down, is boring, boring, boring.    It’s natural. It’s accurate but it’s not dialogue.   And, believe it or not, many very good novelists write the direst of dialogue.

Good dialogue reads like it’s natural but it is in fact, highly constructed.


What is it’s function?

Like everything else, dialogue has to serve your story.   It must give relevant information, advance the action or develop character.   It lightens your prose and can be an efficient way to reveal information that might otherwise need long explanation.

Once you  know what the function of your dialogue is, you are half way to writing it well.


Write it as it comes to you.

Read it aloud.

Cut everything irrelevant.

Read it aloud again.

Cut again..

Leave it, at least, overnight.

Read it aloud again.

Cut again… until you’re satisfied that it’s performing the function you want it to perform but still sounds like real people talking.

Phrases such as:”well…”, “the thing is…”, “by the way…”, “like…” “you see…” etc. are common in ordinary conversation.   In dialogue they’re just padding. As a general rule, cut them out.   If you do use them, they need to have a very specific purpose i.e. to indicate mood, hesitation, lying, give the speaker thinking time, be typical of the character’s speech patterns etc.

Even padding must serve a purpose.

You will be surprised at how much you can convey in just a few words!

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