Posted in An Authors Thoughts

Things Writers Should Know: Dialogue


(My guest post as seen on Nina Romano’s Website: NINA)

  1. Don’t write dialogue the way people talk

    sol steinSol Stein, the great author and editor for luminaries like Elia Kazan and James Baldwin, taught a class on dialogue that had never been taught to writers before. He taught at University of California at Irvine and had to hold the class in a medical amphitheater to house the number of writers taking his course. The first thing he said was critical. Dialogue is a foreign language. What that means is when you write you don’t write the way you were taught to speak. It must be adversarial, filled with nuance and revelatory language, but not so much for what is said, but what is meant. I love the example he uses:

    Elmore Leonard: “Let’s get a drink, and talk for a few days.”

    This line is rife with meaning. And, I’m sure you didn’t learn to talk like that.

  2. Conflict is critical in dialogue

    This doesn’t mean people need to shout, or to use profanity. Yes, use profanity sparingly. Curse words should only be used when absolutely necessary. So far, I haven’t found them necessary in any of my stories. Using lots of profanity is an easy way out of designing dialogue between characters that reveals what they are made of and where they are going. It should express conflict in order to thrust the story forward. Using the f-word does neither. It also shows a lack of imagination. Think of this. How do you write a scene between two people where one is so angry they are ready to kill? It would be easy to say, “I’m gonna kill that motherf——.” All this line shows is anger and nothing else. I personally love the line that Alan Rickman uses in Robin Hood where he screams, “I’m going to cut-out his heart with a spoon!” Hmm. Don’t you think that gives you a better visual?

  3. Dialogue should also show an adversarial bent

Sol Stein says it should “show sparks.” Crackle is another way of expressing it.

Noir Psychological Mystery - Noveltunity Winner

Here’s an example from my book The Night Shadow:

And to think I could be at home cleaning the cat box,” Esther Charlemagne said. “Watching for a Peeping Tom is so much better.”

You know at least a half dozen things about this character. Her relationship to the job and her partner is definitely adversarial. It’s the opening gambit and you already know she’s sarcastic, bored, she owns a cat, and it sounds suspiciously like they are on a stakeout… well, you get the point. Dialogue that snaps and crackles and lights a fire will make your story unforgettable. Readers love those sparks, and you won’t just have a reader of one book, but a follower.





NOIRE MYSTERIES of Chéri Vausé - Chéri Vausé is the author of the noire mystery thriller, a genre that hearkens back to the great noire films of the forties and fifties, bursting with shadowy characters and murky motivations. Based on the Shadow Archetype defined by Carl Jung, Chéri Vausé swings on the Saurian Tale of her Villains, and routs the viper for a satisfying end. If you like psychological thrillers with a literary bent, there's no formulaic style here. The first in her Shadow series, The Night Shadow is the pick of The series features the private investigators Esther Charlemagne and Aiden "Mac" McManus, former NYPD detectives. The stories are set in the moral upheaval of the sixties, the former generation of the PI's world rubbing against the loud and tumultuous times causing friction between those they chase and the heroes. The two PIs wade their way through the seemingly unsolvable cases set before them, and trying to make a new life for themselves after many personal tragedies. Chéri Vausé is a member of (SinC) Sisters in Crime, a professional writing organization for the crime writer. Her Shadow series will be seeing a new addition, picking up shortly after The Touch of a Shadow left off. Tentatively titled, Lady in the Shadows. It will explore the rise of the anarchist, and the KGB involvement in trying to overthrow the United States by influencing college students to take up arms against their country.

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