Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tips to Take Your Dialogue to the Next Level

          By guest blogger Melissa Tagg

If you asked me about my faaaavorite part of writing a book, I’d tell you it’s the part when that first shiny copy arrives on your doorstep and you hold it up in the air like Mufasa displaying Simba at the edge of a cliff in Africa…

Wait, nobody else does that?

But one of my other favorite parts—which doesn’t require a “Circle of Life” singalong—is writing dialogue.

My name is Melissa Tagg. And I. Love. Dialogue.

I've heard awesome author Rachel Hauck give the wise advice to “tell the story between the quotes” many times. It’s such good advice. So much of life happens in spoken words, doesn't it?

And to me, dialogue can make or break a story. Here are a few tips for helping our dialogue sizzle instead of settle:

1. Let characters actually SAY what they’re thinking.

Sometimes when I’m writing that first draft I’ll find myself trapping my character’s best lines in his own head. Someone will say something to him, he’ll give an expected and not all that brilliant response, while thinking something funny or sarcastic or argumentative in his head.

But because he chooses not to actually say it, I rob the moment of some great tension. Here’s an example. In the opening scene of my book From the Start, my heroine—Kate, a romantic movie scriptwriter—is talking to an associate producer who has no idea who she is…and has just called her latest screenplay “sentimental fluff.” This is how things looked in the original version:

The AD poked her with his elbow. “Hey, I don’t think I gave you a chance to introduce yourself. You are…”

“Kate Walker.” The writer of that sentimental fluff.

It’s fine like that. We get to see her annoyance. We get to hear her wry internal voice.

But why trap the tension inside Kate alone?

The AD poked her with his elbow. “Hey, I don’t think I gave you a chance to introduce yourself. You are…”

“Kate Walker.” She pulled her hand from her coat pocket and held it out. “The writer of that sentimental fluff.”

His grip on her palm went lax.

Now we get to see the AD’s discomfort and embarrassment and the awkward laughter of the people around them.  The tension stretches outward.

2. Make use of rhythm.

There is something awesome about dialogue that moves in pulsing beats…that clips along at the perfect pace.

I wish there was a simple three-step plan for developing rhythm in our dialogue. But I think it’s more about feeling than process—feeling when it’s right to speed up and then slow it down, break abruptly or let a stretching pause linger.

What’s helped me is watching movies or TV shows where the dialogue sizzles. Like the 1940 movie His Girl Friday. It stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell and was a total game-changer when it came to dialogue in movies. For the first time, the director let characters talk over and interrupt each other. Grant and Russell’s dialogue is verbal ping-pong—rapid, witty and rhythmic. Like in this scene:

3. Push your character’s words past her comfort level.

We want our characters to sound like real people. But we don’t always want their conversations to sound like real life conversations. Because often in real life, we don’t let ourselves say…

…the vulnerable things.
…the mean things.
…the risky things.
…the uncomfortable things.
…the true things.

We hold back, we don’t go those places. Sometimes with very good reason.

But in a story, it’s so, SO much better when we force our character to go places in her conversations she’d rather not. To say the things we might not be brave enough to say in real life. It can make for some amazing dialogue on the page…and cool stirrings in the reader’s heart.

Those are three bigger-picture, slightly advanced techniques. Want some quick tips?

1.    Watch Gilmore Girls. I’m totally serious. It has some of the smartest and best dialogue out there…and it’s on Netflix, so binge-away!

2.    Read your dialogue out loud. You’ll quickly catch the spots that aren’t working.

3.    Anytime you can replace a dialogue tag with an action beat, don’t even hesitate…just do it.

4.    Embrace sentence fragments to your heart’s content.

I could go on talking dialogue forever but I should probably make myself stop and instead ask, what tips have YOU found for writing great dialogue? Any movies or TV shows that spark your dialogue creativity?

For a chance to win a copy of From the Start, leave a comment!


Melissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. She writes romantic comedy for Bethany House, and is also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Her latest book, From the Start, just released this month. Check out the prequel e-novella Three Little Words free. Melissa blogs regularly at at http://www.melissatagg.com and loves connecting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Terri said...

His Girl Friday! I love that movie and you are so right about the snappy dialogue.

Dialogue is my favorite part of writing. I have to force myself to add in introspection. If not I just have line after line of dialogue.

I'm not sure I allow my characters freedom to say what they want, that is a tip I'll definitely have to try.

Please enter me in the drawing, I'd love to win your book.

Melissa Jagears said...

Great post Melissa. I too often find that I leave the good stuff in their head and during the initial edits I try to remember to look at it and think "what would happen if they said it? - better for the story or not" and reading it aloud is the #1 tip I give out to someone I see struggling with it. Also makes me cut down on the dialog because I realize the natural rythmn of a conversation has gone too lengthy.

Keli Gwyn said...

Awesome post, Melissa, but having read your writing, I expected no less. You've inspired me to be bolder when I write dialogue, to let my characters say things I would never have the courage to say.

My best dialogue tip is to watch T.V. shows and movies with the subtitles on. I catch so much more of the dialogue when I can see and hear what the characters are saying. When I encounter dialogue that sings during our nighty Netflix sessions, I feel like doing the same. Since I love my husband dearly and don't get a charge out of freaking my cats out, I wisely refrain. Instead I ooh and ah and ask Gwynly to replay the exchange so I can fully savor the thrill.

Mary Preston said...

I always appreciate dialogue where the characters are tripping over each other to speak & tripping over words.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

This rings so true! Yes, to using Gilmore Girls as a great example of quick, fast-paced dialogue. The reparte was so well done and all characters stayed in character. So often things get cheesed up.... but the dialogue in that show is well done.

Great examples here of how to spit-shine dialogue, Melissa. And if folks did that to every stretch of dialogue in their stories, WOW... What a difference!

Thank you for being here!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Keli, I can just see sweet Gwynly, master of the controls, replaying bits and pieces for you!!!


Jackie said...

Hi, Melissa. Welcome to Seekerville.

Moonlighting had snappy dialogue, but I'm not sure you were alive when that came out.

Sports shows on ESPN have some interesting dialogue. I'm not sure how much is scripted and how much is real, but it's fun to see the announcers argue their point about who they think will win. Lots of talk yesterday about Tim Tebow signing with the Eagles.

Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks for the great tips today!

Tina Radcliffe said...

WELCOME!!! So deeelighted to have you here in Seekerville.

I brought bagels and schmear! Yummola!

Tina Radcliffe said...

So many good dialogue tips.

Now, I have a question for you.

I remember when you were on unpublished island visiting Seekerville. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?

BTW, you have the BEST covers!

Mary Hicks said...

So glad you posted about dialogue, Melissa. This is my favorite part of writing.

It is through dialogue that characters personalities come to life—the words they use and how they express themselves.

Thanks for sharing the goods tips, and I"d love to win a copy of your book. :-)

Melissa Tagg said...

@Terri YAY I'm glad you like His Girl Friday. It's one of my absolute favorites. And I'm with you on dialogue...if I could, that's ALL I'd write. LOL!

Kelly Bridgewater said...

Dialogue is my weakest point at the moment. I keep trying to cover all the other bases. Five senses, setting, the three threads. That I allow my dialogue to fall to the wayside. Something I'm trying to work on. It is nice seeing you here my friend, Melissa! Thank you for the good tips! Will be printing this off.

Melissa Tagg said...

@Melissa Jagears Hey fellow Bethany House Melissa!!

That's such a good question: "What would happen if they said it?"

Melissa Tagg said...

@Keli, that's such good advice. I wouldn't have thought of the subtitles thing. Going to have to do that...especially when watching Gilmore Girls sometime because they talk SO fast on that one.

Melissa Tagg said...

@Mary Preston Same here. Speaking over each and tripping over words...that's more "real" than polished dialogue.

Melissa Tagg said...

@Ruth Logan Herne Isn't Gilmore Girls' dialogue the BEST? I adore it. I could seriously just listen to that show and be impressed. Same with His Girl Friday, actually.

Melissa Tagg said...

@Jackie I'm glad you brought up Tim Tebow because I might've had a thing for him back in the day. i couldn't help it--he has such perfect facial hair. And some seriously nice arms. LOL!

But yeah, I wouldn't have thought of watching sports shows but I bet you can pick up a great sense of dialogue from those.

Melissa Tagg said...

@Tina Radcliffe Yay for liking my covers. The Bethany House creative team is pretty wonderful. They just gave me a sneak peek of book four's cover and it's my favorite yet. Mostly because the hero is adorable.

And sure, I can talk about my journey to publication. I got serious about writing in 2009 and attended my first My Book Therapy retreat. That's Susan May Warren's craft and coaching community and I often tell people it's one of the best things I ever did for my writing. She and Rachel Hauck became my heroes and have mentored and taught me so much.

At that retreat I realized what genre I fit into best and went to town writing. :) In 2010 I started pursuing publication and attended my first big conference. Things just kinda swam along for awhile, but nothing big seemed to happen.

Until 2012, when I randomly heard from an editor at Bethany House. She'd been following me on Twitter and reading my blog for awhile. She emailed to ask what writing projects I was working on, inviting me to send a proposal. I sent two. And about six months later, I got the call. It was soooo thrilling and evidence, to me, that God can open doors we don't expect whenever he wants. :)

Melissa Tagg said...

@Mary Hicks Yay another dialogue fan! :)

kaybee said...

I LOVE old movies! Rosalind Russell had great lines in most of her movies. Also Hepburn and Tracy.
Dialogue is less of a struggle for me if I know the character well and have worked on their voice. If I haven't, not so good.
Kathy Bailey

Melissa Tagg said...

@Kathy Another classic movie fan! They're so my favorite. Katharine Hepburn is my favorite actress of all time, so I'm glad you mentioned her. One of her movies, The Philadelphia Story, has amaaaazing dialogue, too. A friend once watched it with me and at the end said, "Well, it was okay but nothing really happened in it." I almost cried. LOL! SO much happens in that movie--but so much of it is through words (which makes sense since it's an adapted stage play). Katharine Hepburn's character crumbles throughout it...and it's all through fabulous dialogue!

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Terri. I'm just the opposite. I have my characters think too much, then force myself to have them actually say what they're thinking. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Melissa, nice to know another writer has to turn thoughts into dialogue. Though it is fun to have a character say one thing, then think another.


Janet Dean said...

Keli, I've never thought of turning on the subtitles when watching a movie. Will have to try that.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary P, that kind of dialogue won't be stuffy, that's for sure.


Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, I have yet to watch Gilmore Girls. I'm making a post it note.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Jackie, I loved Moonlighting's dialogue. Must watch it again.


Janet Dean said...

Tina, thanks for the breakfast!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary H. Excellent point that dialogue reveals the characters personality.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Kelly, trying to implement all we know about craft is not easy. Go you!


Janet Dean said...

Melissa, thanks for sharing tips on dialogue today! Thrilled to have you in Seekerville.

I'm impressed that an editor found you! Proof that blogs, social media matter.

I've gotten great information by attending Susie and Rachel's workshops at conferences. They're excellent teachers.


Loraine Nunley said...

Great tips Melissa. I love the dialogue in Gilmore Girls. Thanks for the tips and the giveaway!

Janet Dean said...

Kathy B, you've made a huge point. If I don't know my characters well, I can't write much of anything that works.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Janet, Beth loves Gilmore Girls. It's lame at times, but the dialogue rocks.

And the family relationships. And the townies! I've picked out some great ideas from that show to use in stories because the quirky people are such great fun!

Becky Dempsey said...

It seems you guys know exactly what I'm needing to work on! Yesterday with emotions and today with dialog! I will try the reading it aloud tip. Thanks!!

I'd love to win :)

Melissa Tagg said...

@Janet Yep! Every time I hear a writer say she doesn't have time for social media, I think about how I wouldn't have been published without it. Or at least it probably wouldn't have happened when it did. It can be time-consuming, but man, it can also be so helpful. And blogging, for me, was a huge part of finding my voice, so I love it for that reason alone!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Becky, I hope reading aloud works well for you. It really helps me!

Melissa Tagg said...

p.s. everyone, should we have a discussion about whether it's dialogue or dialog?? LOL! Every time I write something on the subject, I go waffle on which to use. Haha!

Connie Queen said...

Okay, yesterday I felt the need to rewrite all me emotional scenes, and today (thanks to Melissa) I need to re-examine all dialogue.

You brought out a lot of good points. I'm always afraid of telling too much in dialogue--like the editor will think I'm feeding the reader. I'm willing to open up and give it a try.

And Melissa, the editor followed your blogs? Wow. That blows me away.

Jeanne T said...

Great post, Melissa! I will say you are the Mistress of Dialogue (or Dialog . . . whichever you want to use). Your tips are great. I'm learning to let my characters say what pops into their minds, and not being afraid to see where it leads. :)

Jackie, I used to love Moonlighting. :)

Melissa, I always love hearing your road to publication story. And I love reading your stories.

Thanks for a great post!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Connie I've had that same worry--about telling too much through dialogue. Originally I had a whole section in the post about avoiding exposition in dialogue...then I realized that the post was like a million words long and something needed to go. But my quickie rule for myself is to never let characters rehash situations or happenings out loud that they wouldn't in real life...even if those things took place off the page. I have to find a new way to offer up that information because it just doesn't make sense for characters to sit down and basically say, "Oh my goodness, remember when that thing happened five minutes ago that the reader wasn't there for but that WE were there for?" TV shows do that SO often...characters will basically explain something that just happened through dialogue and it's sooo awkward!

And yep, the editor followed me blog. She said it gave her a sample of my writing style. And what was really amazing is that when I first visited Bethany House after signing the contract, multiple people had visited my site and actually brought up things they'd read on the blog. I couldn't believe it!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Jeanne Hiiii! I love that you said you're learning to let your characters say what pops into their heads. I know in real life it's generally so much better to think before we speak...but on the page, that's just no fun! I think it's so much more of a ride for our readers when we let our characters spill. :)

Wilani Wahl said...

Great Post, I found it so helpful. Thank you for sharing with us.

DebH said...

I, too, love dialogue. Your tip to have the character say what they are thinking is my big take-away.
As for classic movies? LOVE 'EM!!! Exactly for the witty repartee.

Unfortunately, my husband likes the action movie stuff *sigh*. The old classics are too "mushy" for his masculine sensibilities, so I have to sort of watch on my own time.

I'll be coming back to this post and applying some of your suggestions as I work through dialogue (log?) next time. Very helpful. And your journey to publication is a great story and example of keep doing what you love, something good will happen.

thanks for the freebie download link! I'm off to go get that so I can sample a new author (to me) that Seekerville is once again introducing me to. I look forward to reading the novella and would love a shot at winning your latest book as well. Thanks for your generosity!!

**off to go see how much foot-in-mouth conflict I can wreak with my characters...**

Connie Queen said...

The editor-thing is just too awesome.

Yeah, I know what you mean about avoiding exposition...

Oh, and btw, love your profile pic. Cute!

DebH said...

never seen Gilmore Girls
always enjoyed Moonlighting
watch The Voice for the coach dialogue interplay

Candee Fick said...

Great tips for fun dialogue! I often find myself writing the dialogue first with that ping pong of zippy zingers back and forth and then go back to fill in the action beats, setting details, and enough internal reactions to keep the POV clear.

And I love your road to publication story. The editor for my debut coming later this year found me on Facebook, looked at the project blurbs on my website, and then requested a certain proposal by name. Totally a God thing!

Also, I can't wait to read your latest because of the football thing. I'm married to a coach and the hero in my debut is a college coach. ;-)

Marianne Barkman said...

Ooo....tips of how you make your books.its almost as cool for this reader to hear that as to read the book! I'd love to win, Melissa!

Melissa Tagg said...

@DebH Hooray for another classic movie fan! Witty repartee is pretty much my favorite thing ever in movies. Too bad about your husband not liking them. Boo! :)

I hope you enjoy the free novella. It was super fun to write something a little shorter...it felt liberating and was just the kind of project I needed last year in between full-length ones.

Melissa Tagg said...

@Connie Hehe glad you like the profile pic! It was probably silly to take a pic of myself all excited when the new book downloaded on my kindle, but I couldn't help it! It was a fun moment.

Melissa Tagg said...

@Candee I love that your editor found you on Facebook! That's awesome. Proof that social media is sooo not a waste of time. :)

Melissa Tagg said...

@Wilani Glad you found it helpful!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Marianne Thanks for stopping by!

Melissa Tagg said...

p.s. Candee, I love that you're excited for the football angle in this book. I knew practically nothing about football before writing it! Thankfully I have some very football savvy friends and one in particular who was above-and-beyond helpful.

Heidi Robbins said...

I love reading great dialogue in novels! You're so right that Gilmore Girls is a fabulous resource- they've got the witty banter down pat. I'm always frustrated when I quote the show and my husband looks at me like I'm nuts ;)

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, you've convinced me to watch Gilmore Girls. Know I'd love it!


Janet Dean said...

Melissa, I'm sure your savvy social media is a huge benefit, not only for getting published but for getting the word out about your wonderful books. Another benefit is the relationships that come from blogging. Without Seekerville, I would have missed out on knowing all these wonderful readers and writers.


LeAnne Bristow said...

Hi Melissa! Thank you for the post. I've heard a lot of writers talking about Gilmore Girls lately, so it looks like I better check it out. I'm slowly learning how to use my dialogue to reveal things about the character that would normal be internal. I'm learning to love dialogue!

Mary Connealy said...

Here's a coincidence, I'm having dinner with Melissa Tagg tonight.

That's be fun. :)
See you soon, Melissa

Elaine Manders said...

Hi Melissa,

I too love dialogue and your post explains why. I put my characters up on the screen and let them say their parts. I catch a lot of lame stuff that way. Dialogue is a great way to show characterization too. My current heroine is impulsive, and she blurts out a personal question that might have better been left unasked, but she gets the answer, and it moves the story along.

Missy Tippens said...

Melissa, welcome!! I'm so glad to have you! I LOVE your books!

These are some great tips. The one about having your character go ahead and say something she's thinking is one I've really enjoyed using. I'm a no-conflict type person so have fun writing things I would never say out loud. LOL

Missy Tippens said...

BTW, you've now implanted Circle of Life in my brain! Will take all day to get it out, I'm afraid. :)

Susanne Dietze said...

I love this post! Dialogue has power! But it can be a trick. We don't necessarily want characters to speak like real life people, because then we'd have too many umms and ers. I get so annoyed in TV shows when characters rehash the plot. It's a fun challenge to layer backstory/emotion/thoughts into dialogue without the conversation sounding strained or tired.

Very cool about Bethany reading your blog. What a testimony!

Kav said...

That Cary Grant scene is just brilliant. So clever. And fast. And the purse throwing at the end? LOL -- I need to watch the whole movie.

Thanks, Melissa -- I really needed this today. I've been thinking my characters are too introspective and it's falling flat. Now I know what I need to do -- get them talking more -- even if it's just to the dog!

Oh and I love Gilmore Girls...though I'll admit it started to annoy me at the end when neither Lorilai or Rory could settle on one fella. But, oh my goodness, the dinner table dialogue with Lorilai's parents. Hysterical stuff.

Cynthia Herron said...

Melissa! *waves* Thanks for these fabulous tips. :) I love dialogue, too. ER used to leave me breathless--the snap, wit, and timing of the characters' comments resonated.

Have you seen The Blacklist with James Spader? Normally not the type of television series I'd be drawn to, but his wit and commentary are fabulous.

I like analyzing what makes characters/stories work and great dialogue is at the heart of those I think.

Natalie Monk said...

Great tips, Melissa! In my first MS, my heroine would murmur her innermost feelings when she was deep in thought, not realizing she'd spoken them. A consistent quirk of hers. It ended up getting her kissed once! Then that turned everything on it's head, of course. :)

I'll have to remember these tips. Thanks so much!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Janet, oh yes, I hear you on the relationship side of social media and blogging. It's one of the hugest benefits. I love the community feel of Seekerville especially!

p.s. I hope you like Gilmore Girls. :)

Melissa Tagg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Tagg said...

@LeAnne Bristow Yay for learning to love dialogue! It really can be fun. I promise. :)

Melissa Tagg said...

@Natalie Monk HAHA I love that! Sounds like a fun scene.

Melissa Tagg said...

Hey Cynthia! I think you've recommended The Blacklist to me before. Someday I need to watch it!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Kav, yay I'm glad you love that His Girl Friday scene. The whole movie is like that--just constant banter. (Um, and you might be able to view the whole thing on YouTube!)

I love that you're a Gilmore Girls fan!! I so agree with you about the end of the series, though. I feel like it's very downhill even as early as season five. Not that the latter seasons don't have their fun moments. But yeah, the characters lost a good deal of appeal near the end, that's for sure...especially Rory.

Melissa Tagg said...

@Susanne I so hear you on that! They can't talk exactly like real people because yeah, none of us need to hear more ums on the page than we already do in real life. Haha!

Melissa Tagg said...

HI Missy! Oh I'm so glad you enjoy the books. I'm so happy to hear that...and hugely grateful!

Many apologies, though, for planting Circle of Life in your head. Haha!!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Elaine Impulsive heroines are my favorite!!!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Mary YAY can't wait to hang out with you in just a few hours!!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Heidi I totally blurted out "Oy with the poodles already" at a family thing recently. Everyone stared. Haha!

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Melissa! These are some AWESOME tips! I really enjoy writing dialogue, and my current heroine has a wry, funny inner voice (think JD from Scrubs) but I hardly ever allow her to say the things she's really thinking because her mother drilled "manners" into her as a child. It might be really fun to give her a scene where she explodes with all the stuff she's really thinking. It will build tension with the hero, too.

His Girl Friday is so much fun, and there's a lot of information about how they wrote the dialogue, because people really do talk over one another like that. And Gilmore Girls!!! Fantastic dialogue writing there. Have a great day!

Meghan Carver said...

Good afternoon, Melissa! I keep hearing about Gilmore Girls. Some of the LI editors like it, and their opinions circled about Twitter a while back. It's at our library...think I better get on my way. :-) I LOVE Castle. Has there ever been a thought he's kept to himself?

Sarah Claucherty said...


I'm so glad I discovered your books at our local library! It's such fun when the guest bloggers here are authors I already read and enjoy :)

As I've mentioned to Ruthy before, I work as a writing tutor at my university, and one of the best tips I've found and always share with my clients is to read their writing out loud, whether it's dialogue or otherwise. I also recommend finding someone to act as a critique partner, which in this case could include you and that partner each taking a character's role and staging their conversations!

I'd love to be entered in the drawing! Haven't read that one yet...

Debby Giusti said...


Great info. Thanks for sharing. I'm reworking a story. Perhaps my heroine needs to be a bit more vocal. :)

You and Mary C are having dinner together? How fun it that! Hugs to both of you!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Debby Yep we are! She's in my neck of the woods tonight. :)

Melissa Tagg said...

@Sarah Oh yay! I'm so glad your library carries the books. And what a good idea--to get a partner to read the dialogue out loud with!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Meghan Yep there are a LOT of Gilmore Girls fans out there. I think all of us are still hanging on, hoping for some kind of reunion or TV movie...haha!

Melissa Tagg said...

@Stephanie Woohoo another His Girl Friday AND Gilmore Girls fan! I love kindred spirits of the entertainment variety. :)

DebH said...

oh yeah, I completely forgot to mention your opening book/Simba, you/Mufasa moment. Pure genius.

Laughed heartily and let me know I was going to really enjoy this post - which, of course, I did.

I can so see myself doing that if/when I get published. btw, unlike others, I can squish the "Circle of Life" song out of my brain - but only because another brain-seize song came over the radio...

thanks again for sharing with Seekerville and have fun with Mary C. I'm envious.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow!! What an encouraging first sale story!!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Susanne, you are so right. Dialogue isn't supposed to sound like the way people really talk. No chatting about the weather unless there's a plot reason for doing so. No using dialogue to tell the reader something the characters already know. Though I'll admit I use ers and ahs upon occasion. But only to show the character is hiding something.



Janet Dean said...

Mary, know you and Melissa will have a blast at dinner!


Susan Anne Mason said...

Hey Melissa!
Another dialogue lover here! Dialogue was always my strong suit, even when my books 'reeked to high heaven'!!
I think I'll have to start watching Gilmore Girl re-runs and study the art more!
Can't wait to read your new one. Put me in the draw please (if Canada is allowed).

Susan Anne Mason said...

I can't believe an editor approached you and asked for a submission! Wow! Talk about every writer's dream.

Titi Funtó said...

Thank you so much for this post.

I love dialogue too. In movies, books, even in real life ;) It's really what I look forward to in a book. I think what the characters say tells me a lot more about who they are than what goes on in their head.

I think what helps me in writing dialogue, is as you said, reading the dialogue out loud. If it drags or its boring then I definitely leave it out.

Thanks once again. From the little snippet in your example, I'm sure I'll love Kate Walker!

Tell the World

Becky Dempsey said...

I just had to share with you all since you have been such a help to me on my writing path. I just wrote the synopsis for my first book! My very first synopsis! I need to go back and fill in some weak spots in my manuscript even more now since I mention them in the synopsis!

Cara Lynn James said...

Great tips, Melissa. I love to write dialogue, too.

Anna Weaver Hurtt said...

Great post, Melissa! This is perfect timing, because I was just thinking that I need to find a way to punch up my dialogue in my WIP. Thanks for the tips!

Off to go watch Gilmore Girls. Yeah, like I needed a reason. ;)

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Titi, good to see you today. Thanks for stopping by Seekerville!

Rhonda Starnes said...

Great post, Melissa. I love writing dialogue! I love having characters who will say the things that we're all thinking but won't say, and I love the playfulness that can be displayed between the hero and heroine through dialogue.

I sometimes worry that I use too much dialogue, and I have to always go back and layer in action beats and setting descriptions.

Sandy Smith said...

Hi Melissa. Great post. I will follow this when examining dialogue in my writing. I do agree that I hate reading dialogue in which characters mention things that the other person clearly knows and doesn't need explained to them.

My husband and I recently watched His Girl Friday. Fun movie. When thinking about dialogue in movies I thought about Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.

I have not had any interest in watching Gilmore Girls but sounds like I need to check it out. And I agree about the dialogue in The Blacklist. For a show of such a dark nature, it has some witty and fun dialogue.

I will have to check out your blog. That is so cool that you were "discovered" there.

Please enter me in the drawing.

Janet Dean said...

Becky, wahoo!! congratulations on writing your first synopsis!


Janet Dean said...

Melissa, we really appreciate you hanging out in Seekerville today! Thanks for the great tips on writing dialogue.

Did we ever decide if it's dialogue or dialog?


The Artist Librarian said...

I love witty, snappy dialogue! Maybe because in real life, it takes me forever to think of a great comeback --but I do love reading them! =P

One book with great dialogue that immediately comes to mind if Siri Mitchell's "Like a Flower in Bloom" in which the daughter of a horticulturalist has been usurped of her position as her father's assistant such as this scene I was slightly surprised to find got past editors (but it's funny)!

“It was just a joke, I assure you.”

“Yes. Exactly. That’s exactly how I feel. As if all that I’ve done and all that I’ve accomplished are to be set aside for some more suitable assistant simply because I’ve got pistils!”

“Pistils …?”

“As if they’re somehow considered less worthy than stamens!”

“Stamens …?”

“Can you see how this is quite vexing?”

“I can see that you’re highly incensed.”


He stood once more and then bowed. “Extremely incensed. I think, it more accurate, perhaps, to say that it is you whom I am ultimately assisting.”

If he hadn’t usurped my position then I might have appreciated the sentiment. “Thank you, Mr. Trimble.”

I really need to watch Gilmore Girls someday ... it sounds like something I'd enjoy and I keep running into people that love that show! =)

Cindy W. said...

Thank you for the awesome post Melissa. I love dialogue and you are right it can make or break a story. Your post is definitely one for my keeper book.

I would love to win a copy of From the Start

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Kara Isaac said...

Great post, Melissa! I'm definitely a big dialogue fan too. My first drafts are usually pages of talking heads because that's what comes most naturally to me. And then a critique partner inevitably points out that they don't know where they are, what time it is, or even if anyone is fully clothed!

Carolyn Astfalk said...

Good post! I love snappy, tension-filled dialogue. I think "The Walking Dead" and "Big Bang a Theory" do a good job with dialogue. Very different shows, but each with clever, witty writers.

Glynis said...

I love dialogue too! I always have and now that I've done a little screenwriting, I find myself wanting to skip everything else and just write dialogue!

Julie Lessman said...

MELISSA!!! Cannot believe I missed your post yesterday, but I was on the road traveling most of the day, so my apologies.

And I am definitely in your camp on dialogue, girl, because for me, it makes the story and let's face it, movies are mostly dialogue, right? And everyone likes movies. :)

Excellent points, all, and I love your mention of rhythm. I tried to watch the clip you included, but it wouldn't work for me, but I absolutely LOVED Gilmore Girls and watched it religiously.

For me rhythm is absolutely key, not only in dialogue, but throughout the entire novel. So much so that when I read the galleys on my first book in which the copy editor made changes but did not track-change them or tell me what she did, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard -- I could feel all the rhythm out of place. I shed a lot of tears over that experience until my agent and editor both told me it was my story and I should change it back, thank God, so I did! Although it took me days and days to do it, it was sooo worth it to me! :)


Sherri Woodbridge said...

Such GREAT advice! Now to try it out!!!

Rachael Koppendrayer said...

That is a really good point in #3 about the difference between real life conversations and dialogue - I am definitely a clam-upper, and not inclined to be any more vulnerable than absolutely necessary. But generally the most powerful scenes in stories are when the characters are being honest and letting it all out. I guess we have another thing to learn from stories!