A Lesson by Domenic Luciani

how to write dialogue for dummies.


First off, there is no science behind Dialogue, you can't nail a perfect conversation by simply watching out for adjectives and nouns. Dialogue must be many things, while there are also many things it shouldn't be. For one thing, dialogue does not always have to be grammatically correct. Your characters have speech impediments, they mumble, they acidently blurt out things that they don't mean to say. Most young writers (and a fair few veterans) see dialogue as little more than a chance to break up the sentences by having characters exchange information. Often, when they think this way, it sounds more like a text they're sending to a friend. There's no real emotion, and even if you can write an amazing story, if you're dialogue sounds stiff and unnatural, everything will fall apart. That's an inevitability.


Dialogue is not what humans do when they speak together, only an approximation. Instead, dialogue is a more condensed form of speech. There are three ways in which personal accounts in a story can be told. Information from the narrators POV, the character's thought, and the character's 'dialogue'. Diaogue serves the best purpose when you want to reveal other character's, well, character.


There are few things to do if you are having problems with dialogue. A suggestion would be to watch a movie, silence it, and put on subtitles; it'll help you get a feel for matching up voices to words.  Truth be told, dialogue is a mental thing. You need to envision the conversation that two (or more) characters are having. They will be mad at eachother, one will be heartbroken and the other will hopelessly attempt to comfort him, they'll be plotting a dangerous bank robbery, they'll be cracking jokes at eachother, and other things. Something else: you can't have your conversations planned out to the period. In real life, you don't have time to think up the answers to questions and execute every syllable to perfection, deriving the exact response you originally intended to recieve. There will be misunderstandings and times when character becomes horribly nervous and can't even finish the conversation. Often times, characters will have conversations that have nothing to do with anything.

Dialogue is not a writing tool to use for furthering plots. Sure it does serve that purpose, but that's not the only reason it exists. Have you ever gone through the day only speaking to people in order to give them information? No. That doesn't happen. You talk to friends about stupid things, you have in depth conversations with your family about different plumbing systems (trust me, a better argument than it seems).


To practice writing dialogue, create a story in which there are two characters. No description whatsoever is needed, only dialogue. These two characters know each other well and are each taking a different side of an issue. Write the argument that ensues between them. Make them have different speech styles, in a way that if you took out titles, you could always tell who was speaking. shoot for between 500 and 600 words. A good scenario to use are two men who robbed a bank and are thinking of what to do with the money. REMEMBER, it's your characters who are speaking, not you, and that dialogue is no substitute for action.

Another good excersise would be write a short short story in which the reader only discovers setting, action, plot, through subtext. It will help you learn the indirect method of explanation (one of the writer's greatest tool) so that the reader will discover hidden meanings, and decipher the story from the limited details given.

Don't make it a soap opera. What I mean is, don't make your dialogue so overdramatic. You might think it's an idiotic notion and there's no way you could sound that cheesy, but truth is, it's a horribly common occurance. Symptoms of being overdramatic include, but are not limited to: a mass of characters finding out that they're related to other characters. Characters are being introduced randomly with witty phrases as they make an entrance, and characters randomly asking about each other's pasts. Sterotypical may be bartenders who speak like rednecks, and body guards who sound like the hulk.


Quick note: Adverbs are a delicate matter. If you throw them on to every he/she said, it will ruin your piece. If you use them sparingly, however, they will better your work. ADVERBS: USE WITH CAUTION.


Anyways, don't rely on Hollywood to direct you towards good dialogue. That should be pretty obvious.

Read Harry Potter or something. Even if you hate J.K. Rowling and think her work's a load of crap (which I don't), she has an incredible aptitude for writing dialogue. I also recommend anything by Thomas Wharton, Bill Pullman, and a few others. NOT TWILIGHT, for the love of god if you're relying on Twilight for writing advice, there's no coming back from that, and there's a dark road leading up to Stephanie Meyer that you don't want to be on.


"Dialogue frequently proceeds without the assistance of any characters that you can actually see, and uncontained thought leaks out of every corner of the story. The reason is usually that the student is wholly interested in his thoughts and his emotions and not in his dramatic action, and that he is too lazy or highfalutin to descend to the concrete where fiction operates." -- Flannery O'Connor


"Recently, I was engaged in a profoundly meaningful conversation in one corner of a large common room. In the corner opposite somebody was trying to conduct some silly group discussion. Presently, a young man strode briskly across the floor and tapped me on the shoulder. "Can you try and keep it down?" he said. "You can't imagine how your voice carries" . . . It carries. Yes, that's the idea isn't it? You say what you have to say the way you have to say it and hope to hell you're bothering somebody." --- Sharon Sheehe Stark, Other Voices




I feel like I didn't say everything that I wanted to say, so if you're having excessive trouble with dialogue, please don't hesitate to shoot me a message.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

This deserves being reread several times.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

Just read Hemmingway's "A Farewell To Arms." He was good with the Dialogue while I on the other hand suck at it. THe only writing experience I have is my journals which are long on rambling and short on conversation.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

I actully just inspired myself to add a new lesson to my own course (The Right Way To Write Wrong) based on my own comment. Ha. How about that.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

I love dialogue. Good dialogue doesn't have to relate to the plot at all. Screw the plot. Let it hide once in while, then come smashing back in through the window when you least expect it. There's no reason that the plot should be an ever present point on the horizon. I've personally never woken up to a plot. I didn't go out and slay any dragons last Tuesday, brushing people aside with, "not now, I've got this plot to deal with." When it hits you, you'll know it. Don't lose the interesting diversions along the way.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

Great installment.. personally, I've always felt that dialogue should further the plot, but simply in character development, rather than reviewing what's happening or making it sound like a test, as you said.
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Domenic Luciani
Domenic Luciani

Buffalo, NY

That is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if..