Intro Music by Fretts!

Our intro and our outro music is Your Government Loves You and Wants You to be Happy, by Fretts! If you love it as much as we do, you can find more beautiful music at!

He Said, She Said: The Art of Writing Dialogue.


What We’re Drinking:

Port Townsend Porter. I generally don’t care for dark beers, as they tend to be a bit sweet and nutty, and I like tangy/bitter/sour/salty flavors in beers a lot more. Smells like toast, it was not terrible. James quite liked it. I wouldn’t go out of my way to drink it again.

What We’re Saying:

We do not encourage underage drinking. Now that that’s out of the way…

James wants to make sure we all know that being overwhelmed by life isn’t the same as procrastination, and he is correct. Also, writing in your blog? That counts as writing.

Side note: Hot Mess, which is discussed at some length, is out now on Amazon, and we are in fact taking submissions for the next edition of Hot Mess.

We discuss the value of being able to talk shop, and it is really important. Writing can be an isolating calling, and for non-performing writers, I think building community can be even more difficult. So thanks for giving us an excuse to sit and have fantastic conversations about the work we’re passionate about.

Finally, the topic! Dialogue!

James thinks dialogue is one of my strengths as a writer. I have no accurate understanding of my abilities because impostor syndrome, so we’ll just go with it.

The truth is, I do have fun writing dialogue. I had to learn to be good at it because it was the easiest way to squeeze the exposition out of my writing.

Writing in fiction is kind of split up into three very broad categories: exposition, dialogue, and action. And you can get away with a lot more dialogue than you can action. Or exposition for that matter.

One of the best ways to improve dialogue is to really pay attention to how other people interact, and that means like not just listening in to other people’s conversations, but also paying attention to things like subtext and paralanguage. Sometimes that helps you understand what isn’t being directly said. Understanding that is a way to help make your dialogue more compelling and realistic.

Dialogue can establish intercharacter relationships, and those relationships are vital to driving plot and giving your characters agency. It wasn’t until I started breaking apart True Grit in order to reverse engineer an outline for my Western that I realized how much the plot is driven by the relationships between the three main characters. And this is one of my favorite books of all time so it was really thrilling to discover something new about it.

Dialogue can be used to establish and heighten conflict, and it can be used to both increase and release tension.

Writing believable and distinct character voices requires relinquishing your authorial voice. Maybe not entirely, but significantly. So sometimes when I’m moving from an exposition-heavy section of writing into a place that will be dialogue heavy, I usually take a break. Because for me, authorial voice can become a rut that’s hard to get out of. This is something I struggled with while working on the Novella project.

Reading the dialogue you’ve written out loud can help you see if it sounds natural or not. Also, dialogue is often not grammatically correct; this is something you can definitely see when you’re listening in on conversations, but only if you pay attention to it. Otherwise it’s invisible to us.

Spoken language is different from written language.

Abandon your english nerdery and don’t be afraid to get “down and dirty” with some working class style dialogue.

Use regional dialects to help flesh out your character’s identity; the region that your character learned to speak in carries with it a whole lot of other things as well; culture, heroes, knowledge of place, etc.

James talks about using spanglish for one of his characters in one of his Works in Progress to identify that character as latina. Which is great because telling the reader that your character is latina doesn’t work nearly as well as showing them that your character is latina.

Writing dialogue for groups is much, much more difficult than one on one dialogue. Keeping track of who’s speaking and everyone’s relationships and motivations is difficult. Making sure you keep up with your dialogue tags is doubly important in these group conversations.

Also, regarding dialogue tags, you don’t actually want to vary them too much. If you leave most of them as “he said, she said,” they kind of disappear into the writing, and the reader reads them but doesn’t really notice them.

Do you have any questions, thoughts, or things to add about writing dialogue?

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