Let’s talk: Creating realistic dialogue

Realistic dialogue is tremendously important in any work of fiction. Nancy Kress and Michael Hague, in their writing books, agree that the goals when writing dialogue are: “Good dialogue characterizes, sounds natural and flows well.” (Kress p.45) “The most important considerations for your dialogue are that it contribute to the overall thrust of your story, that it be true to your characters, and that it sound “real.”” (Hague p.149)

In my novel, Moving On A Prairie Romance I applied the authors’ advice:
 Fingers capped with red painted nails clung to the door the stranger pulled open. “Perhaps I can help you. I’m Margaret Lamb from next door. What right do you have to be here? I’ll bet that you’re one of those agents come to sell the place since John passed on. He’s finally at peace. With the cottage boom, someone’s going to get a fair chunk of money for this property. John had this place a long time. I sure hope you do a good job of selling this cottage--and not to a bunch of party animals. I’ve been here since the eighties, so there’s not much I don’t know or things I can’t tell you.”(p.6)

Both authors also outline a method to achieve the goals referenced above.
Ms. Kress suggests five key points to create dialogue. First, good dialogue tells the reader “who your character is both intellectually and emotionally.”(p.46) Second, because seventy percent of communication is nonverbal, written dialogue needs to increase the level of emotion with the use of punctuation and narrative. Third, characters’ speech must be consistent, keeping in mind that “[e]vreyone alters his speech for different audiences and circumstances.” (p.53) Fourth, dialect must be written carefully with “the goal…to capture the feel of the nonstandard English by judicious variations of diction, word order, spelling and sentence rhythm, and by moderate use of common phrases.” (p.50) Fifth, characterization can be revealed through what a person says and how much they say.

Again, from Moving On A Prairie Romance, when Mrs. Lamb introduces Anna, the main character, to her husband, Herman, this is his response and then his wife’s answer.

He leaned forward in the chair. “Pleased to meet you, Anna!  We’ve been watching over the place. Now I’ll have a better reason to keep an eye on it.”
“Herman. I’m checking with the doctor. Ever since you’ve been on that heart medication, your mouth says everything before your brain censors it.” [Mrs. Lamb.] (p.7)

Mr. Hauge advises answering the following five questions before writing dialogue.

“1. What is my objective within this scene? 2. How will the scene end? 3. What is each character’s objective within the scene? 4. What is each character’s attitude within the scene? 5. How will the scene begin?” (p.139-140)

From my novel when Anna meets Nick, the male protagonist, she caught him off guard without his left leg prosthesis:
She brought her eyes up to meet his and asked, “Recent?”
His hooded brown eyes widened. “Almost a year.”
“Okay.” She didn’t need to worry about him. His loss wasn’t recent. Anna nodded. “My neighbors called about a room for the night.”
“You’re early. Most clients come after they’ve had some supper.”
“Never thought about it.”
“Might as well come in and I’ll show you the room.” (p.10)

Ms. Kress says, “[m]ediocre dialogue can do more harm than good; by boring your reader, by misleading him, by offending him or by convincing him that none of these characters has a single spark of genuine life. (If you write really terrible dialogue, he may think the same about the author.)” (Kress p.45)
Some of the conversations in my novel are ordinary and therefore may not appeal to someone who would like to read about action.

Mr. Hauge suggests that “dialogue is far less important than character development or plot structure, and any skilled filmmaker knows that dialogue is the easiest thing to change in a screen play.” (p.139) 

From my novel: Nick looked at the fish. It was having trouble breathing. “If we put it back now, it’ll die soon. We have to finish the job.” He swallowed bile when he lowered the club with a swift flick of his wrist and the fish stopped moving. “Oh, hell.” (p.114)

Both Kress and Hague agree that writing good dialogue is a balancing act that must be learned through reading authors you admire, and through practice.
I’ve learned and continue to learn from reading books about the craft of writing. I hope that you will share with me some of the books you have found helpful through your writing journey.

Hauge, Michel (2007). Writing Screenplays That Sell. New York: Collins, 139-149
Kress, Nancy (1998). Dynamic Characters. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 45-53

Guest post by Annette Bower

Annette Bower lives and writes in Regina, SK Canada. She is an author of many short stories published in anthologies and magazines in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. She explores women in families, women in communities and women at the beginning and end of love and their quest for love. She pursues the writing craft in workshops, conferences, Writing with Style, Banff Centre for the Arts, Victoria School of Writing, Sage Hill Writing Experience, the Surrey International Writing Conferences and the Romance Writing of America Conferences. 

When she isn’t writing she walks or bikes around the streets and parks in her neighborhood imagining complex worlds behind seemingly ordinary events.

Her first contemporary romance, Moving On A Prairie Romance is published by XoXo Publishing™ a division of Ninni Group Inc.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Annette-Bower-XOXO-Publishing-Author/378438088839629

Annette will award a $25 GC to All Romance eBooks to one randomly drawn commenter, and a $10 Amazon GC to the host with the most comments (excluding Annette's and the host's). So I encourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2012/03/virtual-book-tour-moving-on-by-annette.html



  1. Good morning,
    Thank you for hosting me on Writers and Authors today. I'm excited to hear readers' and writers' thoughts about creative realistic dialogue.
    Yours truly,
    Annette Bower

  2. Thank you for hosting Annette today.

  3. Thank you for the post Annette. Writing dialogue that has a natural flow to it is an art. Not only does it take the story forward and help with pacing, it also gives unique insight into the characters.

    Thank you for supplying the sources you quoted from in your article. They definitely sound like great reference books for writers.

  4. I agree, good dialogue is an art and as writers we need to continue our education. I wonder what reference books other readers and writers use?
    Do you have a specific go to book?

  5. I don't really have a reference book for dialogue. I prefer to see it in practice and so try to read often and a variety of genres.

    I'm curious to know what books other writers are using too.

  6. Jo, you are right, reading helps a great deal to see how experienced authors use dialogue to move a plot forward and show us character and emotions. At one workshop, I learned that instead of always saying, he said, she said, that the character can do normal things like pick up a glass of water or look out the window, etc.

  7. Just the few little clips you have chosen to use here, Annette, show a great deal about Margaret and Herman Lamb. And the one little snippet had me chuckling all over again (I have read and enjoyed the book) and reminded me of another very important function of dialogue, where appropriate. It can add real humor and sparkle to a story. Well done!

    1. Thank you, Mary Balogh. As Jo posted earlier I have read some of the best. You have a very subtle way with language in some situations. I can't remember the book but I do remember a woman in a carriage removing her glove which was a sign to the gentleman that she was open to another experience.

  8. Great post, Annette - plus wow, what fabulous prizes!

    1. Hi Joanne,
      Thank you for coming over to Writers and Authors and reading about creative realistic dialogue. You are now entered into the draw.

  9. Please excuse me for about six hours. I have to leave on a road trip. I will check and reply to all posts as soon as I arrive at the hotel and set up the internet. But please continue to comment. I'm very interested in readers and writers who visit Writers and Authors.
    Yours truly,

  10. I loved the story. It had sensitivity, fun and romance. It also had a town that I would like to live in.

    1. Hello MomJane,
      Thank you for dropping in at Writers and Authors today. Thank you for your comments about the sensitivity, fun and romance of Nick and Anna's journey. I'm glad that the descriptions of Regina Beach created a place you would like to live.
      Yours truly,
      Annette Bower

  11. I love fast, snappy dialogue...the kind you get in some of those old screwball comedies, like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday.

    Like you, I come up with elaborate back stories about people and events in my neighborhood. It's one of the joys of people watching. I've never thought of writing, though.

  12. Hello Catherine Lee,
    When I first started reading romances they all took place somewhere exotic with people who didn't live in my neighborhood. After I had the opportunity to visit the strange and wonderful places, I found the people are just like my neighborhood and my community. My backyard is fantastic to someone who lives elsewhere.
    Perhaps one day you will write down your stories and if you do don't be afraid to read reference books as well as other writers.
    I used to think that if I was meant to be a writer it would just come easily. Perhaps it does for some writers but for me it has been a learning curve with workshops and conferences, and writing. It is an apprenticeship, which I continue working toward being a master, I suppose. Right now another big learning curve is how to reach readers with my virtual book.
    I appreciate that you have taken the time to read about Moving On-A Prairie Romance and also left me a comment.
    Yours truly,
    Annette Bower

  13. Good night to all and thank you for finding Jo and I at writers and authors.

  14. Dear Jo and readers:
    Thank you for coming over to Writers and Authors and commenting on Moving On-A Prairie Romance.
    This is my last check to add commenters into the draw.
    Thank you Jo for hosting me on Writers and Authors.
    Yours truly,
    Annette Bower


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