Friday Forum: Dynamic Dialogue

Our heroine read recently that approximately 50% of your novel should be dialogue, dear Reader. There was a bit of dialogue about it when it appeared on Twitter. Not all agreed.

Still, it got me thinking. Did my novel have enough? More importantly, was it any good? I decided to seek guidance on the intarnetz, which is how these columns come about. As I seek, so shall ye find, and all that. These are the top articles I found:

Ask the Publishing Guru posted Sharon Lipincott’s Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue. She gives five great points that really hit on why dialogue is so important and how to do it well. Her view is that dialogue breathes life into characters. I agree with this wholeheartedly, which is why I’ve done this research. I’m eager to find not only my voice, but the voice of each character.

C. Patrick Schulze‘s This Business of Writing has an article entitled, not surprisingly, Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue. Despite the repeat in title, this is not just a repeat of the above points. It’s a deeper, more thorough look at how to use dialogue. Do take a look at this one for points beyond simple dialogue issues.

The irrepressible Shannon Delany (of the Fast Drafting interview in Plotting) has an article in her blog, 13 to Life, Oh-Em-Gee: Why We Don’t Write Dialogue Like We Talk dated November 11, 2009. (If necessary, scroll down to the dated article.) It’s a fun look at this subject. Don’t let the fun tone fool you, though. There are important nuggets of education in this posting.

Dialogue is central to creating a good novel, in my humble.  It’s an important part of Show, Don’t Tell. It demonstrates your characters and their individual personalities, their voices. Dialogue is crucial to a good novel.

Try practicing listening to others in your life and take some notes. I like parking in a coffee shop with my ears open. You’ll hear quickly how differently people express themselves, even those in the same conversation.

It can be a challenge keeping your characters from sounding the same. By using the tips above and the notes here, you can create better characters and ultimately a better novel.


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8 thoughts on “Friday Forum: Dynamic Dialogue

  1. universalandparticular November 13, 2009 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Dear Jessica, I just wonder if we sometimes do not pay too much attention to technicality. If we focus too much on ‘how’ to write, we loose the sight of
    ‘what’ exactly we want to write and ‘why’.
    Maybe it is just me. I highly regard your opinion. If you have spare time, I would be very happy if you can check two my writing blogs. In the first one I don’t use dialogue as it is different style of writing, more of family memoir:

    In the second one I use dialogue often as you suggest:

    The last one represents just my free writings /picture poems/


    • Jessica Rosen November 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm Reply

      Interesting points you bring up. I’m glad for your feedback and I do agree to a great extent. However, I liken it to how I cook a new recipe. At first, I follow the directions closely in order to sample the results and learn what I can from the process. When I cook that dish again, I tailor the recipe to fit my tastes.

      I would hope that no one uses the advice to such an extent that he or she loses style or delight in writing. I have learned so much that I now write a better novel while retaining my individual voice and style. My stories are told with more impact.

      Thank you for the invitation to your blogs. I look forward to checking them out.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  2. Christina November 13, 2009 at 3:19 pm Reply

    Thanks for the links. One of the things I found especially interesting was the idea that dialogue should sound like but not imitate real speech. I sometimes want to include the pauses, the stuttering, the repetition, and the slang and profanity (especially the profanity) of typical modern speech. Used sparingly, any of these techniques can develop a character or provide dramatic tension. But it’s easy to forget that the main goal is to forward the story. I tend to get caught up in letting dialogue get away from me (as real conversations between people often meander and dance around points). So, I always have to go back and edit dialogue scenes to cut down on the unnecessary (though, to me, interesting) lines and words that don’t serve a strong purpose. It’s funny how much I have to write in order to make the world in my head seem real enough on paper — only to cut out much of what I’ve written so that the reader can enjoy the story! 😀


    • Jessica Rosen November 14, 2009 at 5:22 pm Reply

      Isn’t that funny, I was just doing the same with a secondary character who stutters. His stutter is addressed in the storyline, so it has to be there and emphasized, but not make the reader stumble and lose the magic (hopefully) of being in the story.

      I think your method is the right one. Don’t lose the magic of being the writer creating the story. Dialogue’s crucial, so getting lost in it likely creates beautiful stuff. When you put your rewriting cap on, though, look at the dialogue carefully – as you’re doing. The end result is a tight, well-woven story.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  3. Jason Black November 13, 2009 at 4:39 pm Reply

    And if I can pimp some of my own articles, I have a couple that are specifically about dialogue on my blog:

    Making or breaking your characters with dialogue:


    Un-Clone your characters with distinctive dialogue:

    I hope folks find those helpful!


  4. Shannon Delany/Saoirse Redgrave November 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm Reply


    Thanks for mentioning my post. I’m like you–an observer of people. It helps me check for authenticity when I’m writing.

    Like universalandparticular mentions, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the how and let it bog us down–stalling out our creativity. That’s why writing a fast or dirty first draft can be so helpful. It lets us shake free of the internal editor, get our thoughts (and the heart of the story) out. Then we can return with thoughts of crafting authentic dialogue as we edit and tighten things.

    Thanks so much for mentioning me–glad the post was useful (the experience was certainly educational for me 😉 ).



    • Jessica Rosen November 17, 2009 at 6:04 pm Reply

      Shannon, I love your advice always. The dialogue article is no different. It’s such an interesting take on the subject. Thanks for that post.

      As you know, I’m doing the Fast Drafting Method you detailed in that interview you kindly allowed in the Friday Forum: Plotting article. It’s been rigorous and exciting to see the story come together so well and so quickly!

      Take care and I hope your family is well,
      Jessica Rosen


  5. […] Friday Forum: Dynamic Dialogue Jessica Rosen is full of good advice as usual. Writing believable dialogue can be just impossible, Jessica’s links should help. […]


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