Tips for Dialogue Development -Part I

Dr. Maxine Thompson

New writers tend to go on for pages of narrative, and think they are
writing fiction. Fiction tends to be a healthy balance of dialogue and narrative.
Try not to go on longer than three pages without dialogue, unless the literary
device is one that is more internal monologue.

Write in direct, visual scenes, as if you were writing a movie. Modern readers are more visual
and are used to seeing stories acted out on TV or movies. Keep this in mind.

What are the dialogue rules? “I never got any dialogue rules!” you might say. Well, here are

Use dialogue to describe motives. “Is she dead yet?” tells a lot about the
speaker, particularly when the son is the first to arrive on his rich dead mother’s murder
scene. Practice writing how people give themselves away. (Make use of
Freudian slips.)

Use adversarial, confrontational, interrogatory and oblique dialogue to
move a story. For example: The Boss, “If you‘re late one more time, you’re fired.”
The Employee: “What do you mean, ‘I’m fired?’”

Use dialogue to shape characters. For example, a Black professor speaks differently than a

Some rules for dialogue.

Do not go on longer than 3-4 sentences in dialogue, unless it is a confrontational passage of dialogue. Otherwise, it sounds like a monologue or―speechifying.

Consider voice and point of view, tone and style, when you write dialogue.

Write in a consistent way that the character speaks.

Many new writers will place a number of verbal exchanges of dialogue
in one paragraph. Each time a new speaker says something, you should start a new paragraph.
Read fiction books to see how paragraphs are set up.

Try not to go on longer than 3 sentences of dialogue before the other person

Do not always have your character speak in full sentences. Example: “What is your name?”

Or when two people who already know each other talk, they don’t address each other by name.

A big key point for pacing is not to let a speaker go on for more than three sentences without breaking it up with gestures, body language, interruptions or interaction from the other characters.

Also have people speak obliquely, not answer directly, break off and falter in
their speech, saying one thing and meaning another.

Don’t have your characters make small talk. In real life, we may chit
chat about the weather and the baby‘s new tooth or first step. In fiction,
unless those things happen to be important to the story—leave them
out and cut to the chase. Small talk is dull in real life. It’s even more
boring in fiction. In fact, it’s deadly, and kills your book.

Break up dialogue with action. People don’t simply stand face to-face
and talk. In the next article, learn different ways to use dialogue.

About the author: Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, Internet Radio Show Host, literary agent, editor, and ghostwriter. She is the author of novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues trilogy, Short Story Collection, A Place Called Home, 5 Nonfiction Books, et. al.

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