Story Stuff: D Is For Dialogue

Welcome to Day 4 of our story-oriented Blogging A to Z challenge. Today, we’ll be picking apart dialogue, which feels like it should be easy, doesn’t it?


Here’s the thing: dialogue can make or break a story.

No pressure, though.

Good dialogue weaves seamlessly into the narrative. Bad dialogue…

Well, bad dialogue makes readers close the book. Or in the case of me, throw the kindle.

Dialogue has a lot of jobs to do. On the surface, it shows two or more characters interacting. It should also reveal character traits, move the plot, and offer subtext and foreshadowing.

Oh, and it can’t be weighed down and boring.

And it should imitate actual speech, meaning there won’t be all complete sentences. It shouldn’t be “on the nose,” where the character says exactly what they mean. Like this:

“I have a problem with women because my mother abandoned me when I was eight. She made me feel inadequate and unwanted, so I assume all women will treat me that way. I just want to learn how to love again.”

No person anywhere outside of a psychiatrist’s office (and maybe not even there) would say anything like this – unless they’re being manipulative.

Talking GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’ve written about dialogue in detail here and here, so instead of hashing all that out again, I thought we could share bits of dialogue we’ve written or read that we especially like. I’ll start. Leave your dialogues in the comment section along with where they’re from.

Mine is from my current WIP called The Seventh Seed.

“I’m from California.”

“You’re gonna have to do better than that. How’d you end up in Colorado?”

“Some guys drove me here.”

“Some guys?”

Javier nodded.

“Like . . . government guys?”

Javier suppressed a smile. Liz seemed wise enough to think around the nightly propaganda. “Sort of. I think.”

“Well, if that ain’t the most wishy-washy answer I ever heard.” She stood. “All right, Hector. Tell you what I’m gonna do. You can stay here. In my office. You’re too soft to last long out in the main hall. Most guys are decent, but we get the occasional assholes who stay just enough inside the lines to keep us from booting them. I wasn’t planning on staying over tonight, but I will.”

“Why? You don’t know me.”

“Not sure. I guess you remind me of someone. It’d help to know what you’re carting around there.”

“I can’t tell you. You’ll be in danger if I do.” That should keep her from pressing the issue. Plus, it was true.

“In danger? Seems like I really should know now.”

“The contents aren’t dangerous. What they mean is dangerous. You’re better off if you can play dumb about it.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Back to the government guys?”

He nodded.

“Fair enough.” She walked to a bookshelf and pulled a mat from under it. “I sleep here when I stay over, but you can have it. I’ll get blankets from the laundry.”

“Where will you sleep?”

“Don’t worry about me.”

24 thoughts on “Story Stuff: D Is For Dialogue

  1. Great topic, even if I’m a little late in reading it. I’ve seen some really awful dialogue. Just atrocious. Hopefully I haven’t *written* any… but I’ll let others be the judge of that! Here’s a little snippet from something of mine… it’s fanfic, as it just happens to be the Scrivener project I have open at this moment in time:

    After he’d been given the all-clear, he hastily dressed, buttoned up his shirt, pulled on his boots without properly lacing them up, grabbed his jacket and made a swift exit before the nurse could inflict any further unpleasantness on him. Out back, he found Wells sitting on his jacket on the dusty ground, retying his boots. The half-buttoned state of his shirt was evidence that he, too, hadn’t wanted to stick around any longer than necessary.

    “Join the Army—get medically violated!” Danny quipped with a scowl for the building. “And why do I always get the ones with cold hands? How do they even have cold hands when it’s the middle of June and at least eighty-five in the shade?”

    “Maybe they have a freezer box in there, and whilst waiting for the next guy to torture, they sit with their hands in the box, just to make them cold.”

    “Yeah.” A speculative gleam stole across the sergeant’s eyes. “And they probably stick the needles in flames right before jabbing them into your arm. That would explain why my arm feels like it’s burning.”

    Bucky subconsciously rubbed his own arm. Yeah, it did kinda feel like burning.

    “Maybe they weren’t even inoculating us,” said Wells. “I mean, we only have their word that all those syringes are gonna protect us against typhus and cholera and all that, right? For all we know, they were just putting water in us, and sending us on our merry way, none the wiser.”

    “What?” Bucky scoffed. “That’s crazy. Of course they were inoculating us. You’re just being paranoid. They didn’t accidentally use that hammer on your head, instead of your knees, did they?”

    Wells chuckled, hauled himself to his feet and dusted off his jacket before donning it, and Bucky pulled his jacket on too. The weather was kinda hot for jackets, but the last thing he wanted was a chewing out for improper dress code on his first day. “C’mon, let’s go get our guns… and hope the quartermaster doesn’t have one of those freezer boxes, too.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. He presented the general with a file of his accumulated information and waited.
    The General frowned before shuffling through the pages.
    Ken was counting in his head down to the inevitable moment.
    “Green, what am I looking at here?” The General barked.
    Smiling to himself, Ken explained, “We have believed for some time that this location, here” he leaned forward to point at the relevant page, “was manufacturing bio weapons.”
    “Believe or know.”
    Ken bobbed his head from left to right. “Believe. But, sir,” he went on quickly before the General could interrupt, “the other communiques hint heavily that a small pox bio weapon has been stolen and might have been smuggled out of the country.”
    “Believe. Hint. Might. You don’t know shit.” The General flipped the file closed.
    “I know this. If some two bit Russian gangster stole the weapon and releases it at home, Russia will cease to exist and I’ll be out of a job. I’m ok with that. I speak four other languages. But if anyone else stole the small pox and releases it….” Ken trailed off. He had pushed his luck as far as he could go.
    “You staking your career on this Green?”
    He swallowed hard, “Yes Sir I am.”
    The General nodded once. “Dismissed.”
    Ken exited as fast as he could. He beelined to the men’s room to check his shorts.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Blogging From A to Z Challenge – Theme Reveal! | Allison Maruska

  4. Maybe, like a sculptor who has a already worked out proportions, material and style, a writer has already decided on appropriate dialogue. The writer has an innate sense of how they want their character to speak. For my part, I need plot development and how the character is shown to respond. Often this can mean writing about a particular character in everyday situations-going to the shops, at work perhaps talking to a colleague, on holiday, and away from the storyline. Other times a character just sort of grabs hold of the dialogue on his or her own! That’s how it feels.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. “Yo, Allison. Read your post. Cool.”
    Allison frowns. “What are you trying to sound like a hipster?”
    “Well, you know, I thought that sounded better than, you know, someone who can’t seem to, you know, get to the friggin point, you know.”
    A roll of her eyes. “I’m glad I’m not reading a story with a character that speaks that way.”
    “It’d be better than one that talked in acronyms.”
    “Like,” Allison asked.
    “Found this Papa Oscar Sierra Tango interesting and Tango Yankee Papa Echo a reply to it. Had a Gulf Oscar Oscar Delta time doing it.” Dana smiles, having way too much fun.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. As Mattie prepared a hot shower for Sienna, I checked the internet service. I could access Facebook and Twitter but not my company email. Apparently, Verizon thought we were European hackers trying to break into the system. Sam would have to help, as predicted. I called her.
    “Good morning, Pretty Balls,” Sam chuckled. “Or is it nighttime there?”
    I sighed. “Sam, as much as I treasure you as my assistant, I will terminate you if you keep that up.”
    “Sorry, here at Creative Crapital, Large Marge would have to fire me.”
    “I meant I’d run you over with my car.”
    “Message received. Hey, at least I didn’t mention ‘little guy.’ ”
    “Jesus, that f*cking doctor!” I peered around the corner to ensure that the bathroom door was shut. “Is there anything she didn’t say on that message?”
    Sam giggled. “I don’t know, I only listened to it ten or eleven times.”
    “Come on. I mean . . .” I lowered my voice. “I’m no . . . pinkie finger.”
    “Oh, relax. I’ve seen you in a bathing suit at your pool parties. I know you’re a big stud downstairs. Okay?”
    I rubbed my forehead. “Thank you.”
    “Of course, sometimes the water was cold . . . ”
    “I should probably hold off on a final opinion until I have conclusive information.”
    “You can ask Mattie. You guys talk about everything else.” I walked to the kitchen window. A gondola was passing by with a young couple nestled in a blanket, sipping champagne. I thought about throwing my phone at them. “How about my surveys? Did we get an update?”
    “You’re no fun. Yes, we have some new preliminary stuff. Blah, blah, boring, boring. Nothing as interesting as your voicemails.”
    “Lucky me.” The phone beeped. It was Alberto calling. “Hey, I gotta go. And don’t say anything else about . . . that. Them. Or I will fly home tonight and kill you in your sleep.”
    “Ooh, you’d have to be in my bedroom for that. I’ll wear something frilly. Do you like lace?”
    The phone beeped again. “Stop. I need to get that.”
    “I’m hanging up now, Sam. Bye.”
    She chuckled. “Ciao!”

    – from my soon-to-be-released novel Poggibonsi, An Italian Misadventure

    Liked by 2 people

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