Writing the knockout novel: Pt 7 – RWAus14

How to write Dazzling Dialogue for your characters.


  • Dialogue is a compression and extension of action


The 8 essentials:

1. It has an agenda
Every character who says something in a scene should want something
A way to create instant conflict is to have characters express different agendas via dialogue

2. Flows from character to character
Make it sound natural, what that character would say
Don’t do an info dump via dialogue

3. Conflict or tension

4. Just right in tone

5.  Just right for each character:

  • Vocabulary (education, social class)
  • Expressions (peer group, regionalisms)
  • Syntax (word order, native vs non native speaker)

6. Try to put something unpredictable in every scene
Might be an action (egtapdancing on a boardroom table)
Might say something unpredictable

7. Compressed
Cut it back
More white space for reader
Make it less wordy

8. Subtext
Like an iceburg
Scene is taking place on the surface
What is not said is based on what is below the surface

  • Eg Character web
  • Back story
  • Theme

More details under the break

Tools for talk

1.  Orchestration – create the cast beforehand so there is the possibility of conflict when they talk
The dialogue can then flow naturally because they have their back story set up

2.  Transactional analysis
Adult – most objective
Child – most emotional, throws tantrums etc

Work out what role your characters *think* they are
Work out what role they actually are – assign them a role

Eg good cop  bad cop
Bad cop – playing role of parent
Good cop – playing role of adult, calming things down
Suspect – very often this character plays the role of the child, especially if they are the wisecracking type

Characters can change roles within a scene to try to get their own way

3.  Curve the language
Try to put one `gem` of dialogue into every act
Write out the dialogue, and then play with it, rewrite it etc until it is fresh
Eg Moe Green and Michael Corleone
I made my bones when you were making out with cheerleaders

4. Exposition through confrontation
An argument is a good way to get exposition and backstory out

5.  The Sidestep
Have a situation that does not give an immediate response

  • Answer a question with a question
  • Have silence
  • Have a change of subject

6.  Let it flow
Write an entire scene in dialogue, see how it happens

7.  Minimise
Take a scene, make a copy
Then rewrite it and see how much you can cut out, compress, strip back
Dialogue from this is very sharp

8.  Silence
Don’t be afraid to have silence when you write

9.  Voice journal
Write free form, spontaneous document, in the characters voice
Ask questions, describe background, play around with ideas
Keep writing until  you hear a voice that is not your own – that is the character`s voice

10.  Drop words
Incomplete sentences
Truncated sentences
Much crisper, more realistic, and also can convey emotion in the dialogue

11.  Cast the character
Can be a great actor from the past,
Can imagine the actor is a different gender from your protagonist

12.  Act it out
Read the dialogue out loud
Practice it the way it would be spoken naturally


Example:  On the waterfront, bar scene

Marlon Brando & Eva Marie Saint

  • Has discussion about class,
  • life experience,
  • family background,
  • personal philosophies,
  • lots of silence
  • Different voices for each character
  • Mirror moment

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