Dialogue in Fiction

I can’t remember whether I’ve brought this subject up before, but a reminder never does any harm – especially with common problems!

Very often when I’m reading manuscripts for the writers’ advice services I work for, I come across dialogue that reads something like this:

‘Hi, John. How did the interview go?’

‘Well Jane, I think I came across well. There was one part that worried me, though.’

‘What was that, John?’

‘You know me, Jane – whenever I’m asked to sell myself I feel uncomfortable…’

‘You can say that again, John!’

The way I’ve got the characters calling each other by name in that way might seem like an exaggeration just to make a point – but in fact I do occasionally see it set out just like that, and much more often get examples which are almost as extreme.

People don’t talk like that! And even if they did, in print it looks so clunky that you probably wouldn’t want to reproduce it anyway. Remember that one of the tricks of writing dialogue is to make it seem like the way we usually talk, whereas actually it is often a kind of short-hand or more pithy version.

People in fiction and film rarely say ‘Goodbye’, ‘see you again soon’ etc at the end of a phone call as would be polite in real life – and it’s not because the writer forgot or couldn’t be bothered with it!


About ramblesofawriter

Writer, thinker, tea drinker.
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4 Responses to Dialogue in Fiction

  1. chloefb says:

    First thing I do when editing dialogue is to see whether I can cut out the first and last lines without losing any meaning. I hate when people “show entrances and exits” – makes scenes drag on so long.

  2. As long as you don’t over-do it – otherwise you might end up with a conversation that just reads, “Okay, then”… 😉

  3. J. Dominique says:

    Really, the best way is to write your dialogue, and then read it aloud. That will hopefully catch most of the weirdness you write into your dialogue!

  4. Welcome to the blog, Jemima! (I know you don’t like to give away what the J stands for, but using my highly developed deductive and telepathic powers I’ve concluded with some confidence that’s what it is.) I know a lot of people recommend reading your dialogue out loud, but I must admit I’ve always worried that people will overhear me and have me committed to some sort of institution for bewildered writers.

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