Reviewing the Rules of Writing Good Dialogue

 

Readers love to read a novel full of dialogue. Often they have no idea that, as writers, we have rules we must follow to keep the dialogue interesting. Every sentence in a novel must move the story forward. This keeps reader’s interest whether it is a fiction story, a devotional, or an article about keeping aphids off rose bushes.

Let’s pull back the curtain on an author as she creates her compelling story.

Don’t repeat the question or person’s name when giving an answer. Example:

George: “Lucy? Do you want to go to the movies with me?”

Lucy “Yes, George, I’d love to go to the movies with you.” (Sounds like the utterances of a robot.)

Readers may not even notice when a skilled writer gives an oblique reply.

George: “Do you want to go to the movies with me?”

Lucy: “It depends. What’s playing and when did you have in mind? I have a very busy social life, you know. (Aha! We’ve moved the goalpost on the story. Lucy may have another suitor.)

We don’t use conversation to impart information. (Example)

George: “So? You’ll go with me if you aren’t too busy?”

Lucy: I have a date with Tom next Saturday night. You know, Tom–my mother’s second cousin’s nephew by marriage? He’s a troubled guy, votes Democrat, but he has a charming personality.”

We don’t use meaningless chit-chat in dialogue. Every conversation should have a purpose, give a clue to something yet to come in the story, or suggest a potential conflict. Example:

George: “You’re going out with Tom? I thought he was in jail for murder.”

Lucy: “He’s out now. He was falsely accused. Now he’s receiving death threats against him or anyone associated with him.”

George: “Really, Lucy?” George raises his eyebrow. “Is it wise to date a guy like that?”

Don’t use conversation to impart lengthy bits of back story. Example:

George: “You should be dating me, not Tom. Don’t you realize that I was the one who saved your mother from a burning building that she had purposely set that night when she was despondent over her divorce, and then she learned that she was my father’s long-lost twin sister, separated at birth by their evil stepmother?”

Lucy: Gasp! “I’ve been away at college way too long. Good grief. Does that make us cousins?”

George: “Maybe kissing-cousins. So is it a date?”

Lucy: “As long as they haven’t arrested me yet for killing my college roommate, who recently died under questionable circumstances when she was smothered in her sleep.”

Review: Each sentence delivers new information.

Give oblique answers to a question.

Don’t use the person’s name in your response.

Don’t use conversation to impart lengthy back story.

Don’t repeat the question just asked. The goal is to keep the reader turning pages!

Wow! Writing a book isn’t as easy as you thought, right? I had to keep all these things straight while writing a compelling event that hooks the reader on page one, an exciting middle, and a satisfying and thrilling conclusion. But, it was easy for Mrs. Odboddy to be the prime suspect in a burglary, involved with a counterfeit ring, lose the war bond money, meet a tiger and still win at the end. Mrs. Odboddy – And Then There was a Tiger will keep the reader turning pages and looking backward to the previous Mrs. O books, or forward to Mrs. Odboddy’s Desperate Doings. Join Mrs. Odboddy on this rollicking adventure as she tackles adversity in this hysterical romp at the Newbury Harvest Fair, even as she fights the war from the home front during WWII.