That’s What He Said (A Post on Dialogue in Dialogue)

Posted: December 2, 2015 in On Writing
Tags: , , ,

“Hey there.”

“Hey back.”

“Watcha working on?”

“A piece on dialogue writing.”

“Seriously? You think you’re qualified to write something like that. What are you starting with?”

“A definition. Dialogue: a conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie.”

“Yawn. C’mon, liven it up a bit. Think of the great dialogue scenes in movies. John McClane and Al Powell. Harry and Sally. Vincent McCauley and Neil Hanna. Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield. Two people, sitting down, talking to each other. Sometimes sizing each other up. Sometimes taking the piss out of each other. And you’re going to start with a definition?”

“You’ve got a better idea?”

“Bet your ass I do.”

“Please, enlighten me.”

“Start with a question?”

“A question. But not any question. The question all authors need to ask about anything they are including in a story.”


“Well what?”

“The question, what’s the question?”

“You tell me, you’re the one writing about dialogue like some kind of expert.”

“All right. How’s this: ‘What purpose does dialogue serve in the context of the story you are telling?’”

“Ding ding ding. Of course, you are also going to have give some examples.”


“Hey, you are the one that wanted to write about dialogue.”

“All right, all right. So you can use dialogue to answer questions, right?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Can’t it be both?”

“Now you’re catching on. If you answer a question with a question, you might both answer the question and raise more questions. Same thing if you have someone ask a follow-up question to an answer provided. Helps break up the wall o’ text that might establish itself in the middle of what you are writing.”

“All right. So it can be used to ask questions and answer them. It can be used to provide information to the reader. Anything else.”

“What are you, some kind of idiot?”

“Wait- what? Why did you just call me that?”

“Maybe I did that to show the kind of relationship that we have. By taking an antagonistic approach to the dialogue I’m telling the reader about the kind of relationship we have, as opposed to if I started calling you Pumpkin.”

“Really, another Pulp Fiction reference?”

“Just seeing if you’re paying attention. So do you think it’s possible to have more than two people in a conversation?”

“Of course it is.”

“Whoa, who are you?”

“The person eavesdropping on your conversation. Fascinating stuff, really. So yes it is possible to have another character jump in, but you need to be sure to keep clear to the reader who is talking, otherwise they might lose the thread of the conversation.”

“Huh, good point.”

“Agreed. Now, if you don’t mind, this is a private conversation.”

“Well, excuse me.”

“Wait, where were we?”

“Let’s see, showing relationships through dialogue, Pulp Fiction reference, timely interruption. Anything else?”

“Let me think. Mind pouring me a cup of coffee while I ponder?”

“Not at all.”

“There you go, showing action through dialogue. Of course, you could do that through a sentence showing action within the dialogue, but that’s not always necessary.”

“Hmm. Good point. Any final thoughts?”

“Final thoughts? Final thoughts! We’ve barely dipped into the topic and here you are asking me for final thoughts! We haven’t touched on dialect, slang, or whether or not it’s okay to use ‘said’ at the end of a dialogue to indicate who is talking. And we definitely haven’t touched on the most important aspect of all.”

“Huh? What’s that?”

“Reading the dialogue aloud. It’s even better if you’ve got another person you can work with so you can make sure the banter works, as opposed to dwelling in your own head only thinking your dialogue pops when it facts its heavier than a lead balloon.”

“Huh, good idea, thanks.”

“De nada.”


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