If You Can Talk, You Can Write Dialogue, Right?

Dialogue is two or more characters talking to each other. Should be easy, shouldn’t it? Well, maybe not.

Here’s what dialogue is:

  • Talk is an ACTION. An ideal, compact way to advance your story by having one character tell the other what’s happening—to reveal, admit, incite, accuse, lie, etc. It can speed up a scene.
  • A way to define a character. The way someone speaks—accent, vocabulary, idiom, inflection—tells as much about what he is like as his actions do. And let’s us see him better than just using description. It can also reveal motive.
  • One way to show emotion and set a mood. Characters reveal themselves when under stress or angry. Dialogue is used to create an emotional effect in the reader.
  • Another way to show Point of View (POV).
  • Often used to get across what is NOT said. Example, if you want to show that someone wants to avoid an unpleasant encounter, you can show this by having them talk around the subject uppermost in their mind, but never quite touch it. In this way, you’re asking the reader to read between the lines. It’s tricky, but think about how you talk to someone yourself when you’re angry at them but don’t want to tell them exactly why—by being sarcastic, arch, nitpicky, oversolicitous, etc.
  • To intensify conflict. Dialogue is often adversarial or confrontational.

Dialogue should be natural, but never the way we really talk.


The minute the phone rang, Patty snatched the receiver, grateful for a distraction—any distraction. “Hello,” she said.

“Hey, Pat. It’s me, Cara.”

“Oh, hi. How are you?”

“Good,” replied Cara. “How about you?”

“Okay. What’re you up to?”

“Ah…you know,” said Cara. “Not much.”

“Yeah. Not much new on this end, either. I brought home a ton of case files to read.”

“Same here. We need a shift lieutenant who knows what a shift is.”

“You got that right,” Pat agreed. “But I almost wish we were still at the station. Maybe we could get some buzz on the new detective, that Ross. Supposedly he’s an investigative whiz.”

“Maybe not,” said Cara. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “He’s why I’m calling. Roger, the guy in records? He told me Ross comes with a lot of baggage—maybe even a criminal record.”

“Say what? That can’t be possible.”

Make sure your characters have something worth saying before they open their mouths, and get to the point quickly. What did Patty learn from Cara that moves the story along or tells us something critical about one or both characters?

Example rewrite:

The minute the phone rang, Patty snatched the receiver, grateful for a distraction from the case files she’d lugged home from the station.

Cara was on the other end. She said a fast hello, then dropped her voice to a whisper. “You lay eyes on that new detective yet? Ross?”

“Sure,” said Pat. “Supposedly he’s some kind of investigative whiz.”

“Maybe not. Roger, the guy in records? He told me Ross comes with a lot of baggage—maybe even a criminal record.”

“Say what? That can’t be possible.”

We’ve cut the conversation down from 17 lines to 8 and made it much more exciting. We know, without a lot of chit-chat, that she’s brought home extra work. Cara cuts right to the chase with her tidbit of gossip.

Next time, I’ll write about some of the common mistakes we all make in dialogue.

Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 5:12 am  Comments (3)  

Mules are Like Potato Chips…

…You can’t have just one!

Down, down the steep and rocky canyon wall they went. Nose to tail, long ears flopping, stepping oh so very carefully as they placed shod hooves into small spaces between the hard rocks. Their riders looked askance at the steep drop off, some even shutting their eyes to the beautiful vistas.

The Grand Canyon mules were accustomed to many and varied riders, and seemed not to care that their passengers were slightly nervous; they had seen these rocky paths many times and would see them many more. Rose Miller was among those riders going down Bright Angel Trail on their trustworthy mules to the Phantom Ranch below where she and her fellow travelers would spend the night and travel back on the Kaibab trail to the top the next day.

By the time Rose returned home to northern Indiana, she had become totally enthralled with those captivating and unique equine hybrids and was determined to find the perfect, safe and dependable mule to ride in her “senior years.” She had owned, shown, bred and trained horses for nearly forty years, and now was ready for the easy life.

What happens next constitutes the story of “Mules, Mules and More Mules,” as Rose searches for the ideal long-eared companion.  Because of her bad back, a smooth-gaited mule that would allow her to sit back and enjoy the ride was desired, but everything was not smooth going. Continue along for the trip as she uses her engaging around-the-campfire-story-telling style to introduce her mules: Mirabella, Samson, Maybellene, Ruth Ann, Susie, and Lucinda. You will laugh out loud as she learns the hard way, mules and horses are different, and are not perfect.

After a few nasty falls from her not so unflappable mules, fear enters the picture and Rose wonders if at nearly 70 she should finally “hang it up,” and stop riding.  After much soul-searching, she recognizes she had in fact been very lucky and blessed in all her incidents and that as with her horses, she needs to be a part of the conditioning and training process. Just because she now has mules, does not mean she should become complacent. Telling herself, “I should have known better,” Rose sadly realizes there is no easy life where living with horses or mules is concerned, and sometimes one has to cut one’s losses and realize that not every mule is for every rider. There is no shame in staying safe and not conquering every fear.

Each mule teaches Rose something different, but in the end she realizes that mules have become a new addiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Rose not only tells entertaining anecdotes about each of her mules but her experiences with them are also  educational. Although I grew up on a ranch, riding horses, I’ve never been around mules, so I learned a lot and I think I’d like to try riding one! Anyone who loves to be entertained by and loves animals will surely enjoy Mules, Mules and More Mules.

This book and The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot can be purchased through Rose’s Website.

Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 10:46 pm  Comments (3)  
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