The Dance of Dialogue: 21 Tips for Writing Great Scenes

Writing conversations that sound natural can present a challenge for some writers. It’s akin to composing a melody, which clearly, does not come easy to everyone. Unless of course you run with Brahms or Beyonce. Yeah…

We (being: me & Maria) attended Brian Henry’s (Quick Brown Fox) dialogue workshop this week and have some useful advice for others trying to perfect the knack of writing good dialogue.

We managed to collect some useful tidbits, like: 1) the plot is the superstructure for entertaining the reader; 2) if two characters are too similar, you must kill one of them; and 3) forget show-don’t-tell, instead show what’s important; tell about the stuff that’s not! Gotta love new takes on old rules—go Brian go!

So, now dripping of dialogue do’s & don’t’s, I’d like to share them with you.

21 Tips for Writing Great Scenes:

  • Dialogue and narrative must play off each other.
  • Every scene must have a point and advance the story. Subject your scene to the “so what?” test.
  • Always make your characters interesting. Like, give ’em a verbal quirk.
  • Characters should always have their own agenda.
  • Treat your characters as “tour guides.” It’s their job to guide the reader.
  • Dialogue is dynamic. It should not travel in a straight line.
  • Remove extra words! Use words that are pithy & colorful.
  • Do not overdo narrative interruptions.
  • Use contractions freely in dialogue (and in narrative too).
  • The simpler the dialogue tag, the better. “He said” and “She said” are the most common. They’re also so unobtrusive that they’re almost invisible.
  • Trust your dialogue and resist the urge to explain everything.
  • Use narrative to keep characters grounded in their setting.
  • Cut greetings, intro’s, inquiries into people’s health, and/or the weather.
  • Aim to have more than one thing going on at once.
  • Milk the tension! Good dialogue requires tension or conflict.
  • Engage characters in another activity while talking (avoid the obvious: smoking & leaning).
  • Employ irony: create a gap between what your characters say and what the reader knows is the truth.
  • The more dialogue you have, the more readable your story.
  • Ask yourself: Will readers pay $ for what I have just given them?
  • Hook the reader from the beginning; hook the reader as the story develops; and hook the reader by leading them into the next scene.
  • Umm. Did I mention, hook the reader?

 List compiled from: Writing Dialogue Workshop, Brian Henry, July 17, 2010.

The best thing you can do is to READ IT OUT LOUD. This is a great way to test your dialogue. And when you do, perhaps lock yourself in a sound-tight room to avoid the people in white coats…


Need more help? Dialogue Writing Resources:

Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella

Writing Dialogue for Scripts by Rib Davis

Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan Rosenfeld

Upcoming Writer’s Digest Webinar (July 22, 2010): Write Great Fiction: Craft Sizzling Dialogue


Filed under Motivation, Writing resources

3 responses to “The Dance of Dialogue: 21 Tips for Writing Great Scenes

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Dance of Dialogue: 21 Tips for Writing Great Scenes « Restless Writers --

  2. Koreen

    Great tips. Sometimes I start to over think my dialogue and end up with stiff scenes, but if I remember some of these like the “so what” factor it would help.

    • Thanks for the comment, Koreen! I can relate… the best thing is to eavesdrop on others for natural dialogue. Starbucks is a great place to start. Good luck!

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