“She said what?” Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue

This post was Freshly Pressed.

This post was Freshly Pressed.







Image: writeyourscreenplay...

Image: writeyourscreenplay…

“The problem with figuring out realistic, tight dialogue,” Piper continued, “is knowing your character. If you really know who your character is—what they think and how they act, it’s a lot easier to understand what they would say; and, then it won’t sound as forced.”

She adjusted her Mac and looked up at Kim. The sounds of the café came in as Piper thought it through.

“Well, if it’s your character, if you create them, wouldn’t you naturally know what they would say? I mean, shouldn’t the dialogue part be easy?” Kim still looked confused.

“Actually, not really. Dialogue is hard; it takes practice.” Piper looked around the café. “First, you really need to study dialogue, study people. How do people talk—how do you and your friends talk?”

Piper motioned toward the others around them, drinking coffee or eating, and both women glanced around the room.

“Once you’ve studied general dialogue—people around you, etcetera, you need to really figure out the characters you write. You have to know who they are, what they like, what motivates them, and what they would say or do in different circumstances. The more you know your characters and their motivations, the easier it is to figure out what they would say, and how they would say it.”

“Can I get you anything else here?” The young waitress interrupted, friendly and efficient.

“Actually, I think I’ll have another green tea, thanks. You?” Kim looked to Piper, as she pushed her empty mug toward the edge of the table.

“Uh, yes; I’ll have a latte this time. Thanks a lot.” Piper smiled at the young woman, as she cleared the cups from earlier. Both women moved their computers aside, to make room for the drinks.

“I’m still a little lost.” Kim continued, as they waited for their order. “Do have to know every character in your story. Can’t you just figure out the dialogue of ‘minor characters,’ you know: wing it?'”

“If you wing it, I think it doesn’t sound authentic, and your story suffers.” Piper continued, focused and excited. “I think a lot of dialogue is just pulled together, but good dialogue is worked out. You might not get to know your minor characters quite as thoroughly as your central characters, but you have to understand why they would say what they say, or do what they do, just the same. If it isn’t authentic, real, then the story won’t be as believable; it wont hold together. Dialogue is key, and the key to good dialogue—I believe, is knowing your characters as well as your story.”

Kim nodded in agreement, but still wasn’t sure she understood it, and Piper’s strong feelings about this element of writing. They’d been writing together on Tuesdays, for months, but their styles were different, and Kim sometimes struggled to grasp Piper’s passionate beliefs about style and form. Kim wrote from an instinctual place. Her writing was easy, for the most part, while Piper was very serious about the construct of writing, the rules, the arcs and details that were spelled out in so many books on writing. They both had strengths, Kim thought, and Piper was definitely better with dialogue.

As Piper turned to look toward the counter, Kim listened to the couple at the table beside them, noting how the woman stirred her coffee, absently, and the man pushed his hair back from his forehead. These mundane actions were exactly what Piper was referring to, the kind of things that made a scene more believable to readers. These were the the exact details Kim was working so hard to master in her own writing.

“Anything else?” The girl broke the spell, as she placed the hot drinks on the table

“No, thank you. Not for me,” Piper responded first, and looked to Kim.

“No; nothing for me either.” The girl smiled at Kim, and left a check on the table.

“I can take that whenever you’re both ready.” She nodded toward the slip of paper. “There’s no hurry, and just let me know if  you’d like something else.”

Both women smiled at her as the waitress left the bill and walked away.

Kim stirred a little honey into her tea and glanced around at the other tables, noting the diners and what they were doing. Piper seemed to be lost in her own thoughts, playing with the froth of her latte, erasing the neat brown leaf that had been drawn in the foamy milk. Kim noticed that the woman beside them was now holding the man’s hand, the conversation appearing more intimate as they drew closer to each other, across their table.

“It’s so easy to look around and see the dialogue happening, note the ticks and movements that go along with the words,” Kim began again, “but putting that into a story seems so much more daunting when I’m trying to make it come to life on the page. I think I get it, until I try and do it.”

“That’s the trick, I guess, figuring out how to make what we see, work on the page. How to make the words we imagine our characters would say, and the things they would do, seem real and believable, without all of the characters sounding exactly the same. Dialogue’s a bitch, but when you get it, it makes all the difference.” Piper laughed, and pushed her latte aside, the drink still steaming.

Kim smiled wistfully, and took a sip of her tea. She needed to get back to work, and figure out how her character would say what she needed them to say. She reached for her Mac as Piper did the same. They arranged their cups to the side, and they both began to type again.

The clank of silverware against the simple white ceramic plates and mugs, and the smell of food filled the space. The bright sun shone through the unusually tall windows and the tops of trees outside cast their green magic on the view outside.  Kim rested her fingers on the keyboard, thought about her character, and began to type.

The man said…

Note:  As always, I welcome feedback. Leave a comment and tell me what worked, and what didn’t, for you.  It’s been an exciting few weeks; I’m on a roll right now, with posts. More writing than usual… This is part of the Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge; you can check it out here. This week’s theme: dialogue. The challenge is to write a post: fiction or non-ficition, that uses dialogue to move the story along. I wanted to play with this theme; this is fiction: dialogue about dialogue.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Blog, Blogging, blogs, Honest observations on many things, Tales From the Motherland, Weekly Writing Challenge, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

72 Responses to “She said what?” Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue

  1. “Now that made me smile,” Mrs Carmichael said.


  2. Pingback: Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue | My Atheist Blog

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    Very clever spin on the challenge. Insightful, too. I enjoy writing dialogue. I find when I go back to edit, dialogue is the area that needs the least amount of revision from me. Now, those descriptive scenes on the other hand…


    • Thanks Carrie… Yes, I find dialogue fairly easy too. Getting in the heads of the various characters is the challenge, making sure it doesn’t all sound the same: like me. I find that many novel, it’s hard to tell who’s talking, without cues, because the voices sound too much alike. Thanks for the feedback!


  4. Nicely done ! I kind of had it figured that it was paradoxical as the story progressed but I enjoyed it all the same. I struggle with dialogue most also!


  5. Pam says:

    Love it. A classic example of show don’t tell.


  6. The Waiting says:

    Masterfully written. I am not a novelist or even a writer of fiction, but I can spot good stuff when I see it. This was not good. This was fantastic.


  7. etomczyk says:

    This was delightful. I love working with dialogue (as you can tell from my blog). It was believable, and it kept me interested until the end. I think that is the first objective of good dialogue. 🙂


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  10. Pingback: Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue | Joe's Musings

  11. Congrats on the Freshly Pressed, Dawn!! Yay!! This is really clever, a fictional story on dialogue about dialogue. Nicely done!


  12. Le Clown says:

    Holy Christ on a Poo Stick! Look at you winning the internet! I fucking love this. It’s clever. And it will create all sorts of dialogue. and conversation. Look at you go…

    Do you think I have added enough praise?
    Le Clown


  13. Adam S says:

    Great piece, D! I love me some dialogue. I think it’s the most fun to write. This, here, read like a movie. I could picture it in my mind vividly. Well done. \m/


  14. “Yo, what’s goin on?” I totally agree. Whenever I write dialogue I try to base my story and characters from NYC. Since I lived there all my life (and have a heavy NYC accent) it’s a breeze for me to write convincing and effective NYC dialogue. I just pretend I’m talking to one of my friends. “Do you ya know what I mean?”


    • Thanks so much for stopping by and for taking the time to leave some feedback, Joseph. Yes, totally agree! It helps when you’re from a distinctive area, that has ticks and accents to play with. I’m from Boston, and I get wicked excited when I get to talk that way. Don’t have the accent myself, but grew up with it, with much of my family still there and drawing out their ahhhs. Rs. Thanks for stopping by! Much appreciated.


  15. shreyapunj says:

    I am zapped. An entire post about Dialogue. You are a genius!


  16. gingerpoetry says:

    Hi, I´m German so I don´t write in English – but I´ve learned a lot about how dialogue works- thanks! Will follow your blog and try to improve, regards Carmen


  17. I enjoyed how you not only got the dialogue, but also gave a snapshot of the environment… Nicely done.
    And congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!


  18. Dance, Carmen. We have a German exchange student. You speak/write very well, and your feedback is much appreciated. Thanks for taking the time!


  19. firstly I liked the comment box – “comment here. I DARE YOU” and yes the Caps Lock, makes all the difference in the world and I loved your post. As I can see, almost everyone else loved it, but there was no other word than loved that I’d use with your witty post. It’s an extremely witty concept. Simply loved it and its an inspiration to me as it brings out the core of dialogue writing so smoothly and it gives a clear picture to the minds of an amateur writer..or someone, like me, whose toying with the idea of writing. Thank you, for this wonderful post.


  20. Congratulations on the Freshly Pressed nod, my friend. Very well deserved.


  21. Dialogue comes from characters, and characters come from two places: they’re either versions of ourselves, or people we know. The tricky part (at least for me!) is to avoid all your characters sounding the same through all being facets of the same person – the writer.


    • I totally agree Andrew. In this brief dialogue, it flowed very easily and I tried to imagine two different characters. I wasn’t thinking of anyone in particular, so there may be some of me in there… but it was easy, natural. When I was working on my manuscript, I had to work extra hard to find believable male voices, women that weren’t me, and not just a caricature of my friends… I may have said it in a previous comment, but yes, the goal is to not have them sound the same, and to give them life. Thanks so much for visiting TFTM, and for taking the time to leave such a insightful comment. I hope you’ll read other posts and share your thoughts. Much appreciated!


  22. Reblogged this on Tales from the Motherland and commented:

    This was Fresh Pressed last weekend. Thanks again Word Press! But since 6 of my posts have “vanished,” here it is again!


  23. neasha1 says:

    Very nicely written! You described the characters and dialog quandary perfectly. I find a bit of myself, others I know, or characters from a book that I’ve filed away in my mind.


    • Thanks a lot. I am always watching people, catching nuanced discussions, and actions… and squirreling them away for future scenes. I use a lot of it each week in the Friday Fictioneers… great way to put them out there. Thanks for taking the time to read this post and share your thoughts. Much appreciated! I hope you’ll check out more on TFTM and tell me what you think. 😉


  24. Kourtney Heintz says:

    Congrats on being freshly pressed! 🙂


  25. Excellent!
    An object lesson in crafting a story, with totally credible dialogue, regardless of accents or background.
    AnElephant loves it.


  26. Pingback: My Blog is Me, But I Am Not My Blog… | TALES FROM THE MOTHERLAND


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