Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Diet for Writing Dynamic Dialogue

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Like delicious desserts, dialogue is often a reader’s favorite part of a story. We quote great dialogue for generations.

“Off with her head!” – Lewis Carroll.

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill.

“There’s so much scope for imagination.” Lucy Maud Montgomery.

“It’s me again, Hank the Cowdog.” John Erickson.

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” – Jesus Christ.

Dialogue is what characters say. Powerful stories are dialog driven through carefully chosen word selections. When Scrooge responds to Christmas cheer with “Bah, humbug,” Charles Dickens has masterfully portrayed the old man’s attitude and character in two words. 
Dialogue has dynamic purpose in a manuscript. It economically accomplishes several vital objectives. 

Dialogue must:

1. Move the story forward. “I’m going over there right now.” This declaration 
tells the reader what direction the action is taking.

2. Reveal something important about the plot. “Did you know she resigned today?” A single sentence can provide a crucial plot point without the use of an entire scene to show the same event. In dialog, information can be dropped like a surprise bomb. Readers read to be surprised.

3. Show something important about the character. “That will be his last 
conscious act.” What a character says can show what the character is thinking, how the character responds, and illuminate the depth of the character’s motivation.

4. Give the character a unique voice. “I know hurryin’ is against your nature, but you might want to pick up the pace before that storm rolls in.” Vocabulary lets the reader know if the character is educated, gives clues to the region the character is from, and shows the character’s nature to be relaxed, tightly wound, worried, sly, or confident. 

Put your dialogue on a diet. 

Words that should not appear in dialogue include:


Writers give the illusion of reality when crafting dialogue. It is the juicy parts with the empty portions left out. 

She helped him sit up. “Are you okay?”

He rubbed the goose egg on the back of his head. “Where is the phone?”

In this example, if the character answered the question – “Yeah, well, I think I’m okay,” – it would detract from the urgency of the situation. From the action of rubbing his head, we know the hero has a painful noggin. Because he ignores concerns about his health, the reader sees he is focused on what is more important. Show me or tell me, but don’t do both.

In the first draft, dialogue may begin with “Hello,” “Oh,” or “Well,” “Yeah,” and end with ‘Good-bye,” but in the editing process, be sure to remove these unnecessary distractions. They are like empty calories in your work. Cream filled Twinkies to be eliminated. Then reread the conversations and see how concise it flows without the banned words weighing it down and sounding like the writer is a novice. With practice, you will no longer even write these Twinkies into your dynamic dialogue diet.

A diet for #writing dynamic dialogue from @PeggySueWells on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Tips to remove unnecessary distractions when #writing dialogue - @PeggySueWells on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Writer, speaker, producer, radio co-host, and mom, PeggySue Wells is the bestselling author of a couple dozen books including an audio finalist. Her brand new 2018 titles are Homeless for the Holidays, and Chasing Sunrise(releasing November 16). As a gift to her readers, Homeless for the Holidays ebook is available for 99 cents on October 8.

Say hello to PeggySue at her website, www.PeggySueWells.com


  1. Thanks Ms. Peggy Sue. Good stuff ma'am.

    1. Thank you, Jim, for reading and connecting. Write on!

  2. PeggySue, Thanks for your helpful instruction. I'm going to copy this one and put it in my notebook.

    1. This website is a terrific place to glean great writing tips. So glad this is helpful for you.