How To Write Compelling Dialogue

Your characters do interact, don’t they? But how compelling is their dialogue? Does it sound real?

Jerry B. Jenkins has the experience of writing more than 200 novels and he shares some of that experience with us.

I recommend watching this video as it is full of wisdom.

I’m writing down the 6 keys for writing a compelling dialogue just so we can both have it in a more accessible format in case we need it:

  1. Cut dialogue to the bone
  2. Use it to reveal backstory
  3. Use it to reveal character
  4. Be subtle
  5. Read your dialogue aloud
  6. Create a ‘Make My Day’ moment

As a reader, have you ever read a dialogue you think it was bad? How did it sound like?

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17 comments

  1. Interesting.

    I think he has some good points. I’ve fallen victim to the classic English teacher instructions to use more creative words than “said,” although some of the more creative words themselves sound unnatural. Maybe I need to find a balance.

    That last part about on-the-nose writing… again, I see his point, but being that my blog is specifically nostalgic fiction, I think some of those on-the-nose details do in fact advance my writing. For example, when I describe the whirs and clicks of the character’s computer connecting to the dialup Internet, so he can read his email, consisting mostly of bad jokes that have been forwarded dozens of times, this helps to remind the reader that it is 1996.

    (Also, controversial opinion: I’m a little hesitant to take writing advice from Jerry B. Jenkins, since the later books in the Left Behind series felt so poorly written to me. But that’s another issue entirely… and I’m not really familiar with his writing beyond Left Behind.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • English teachers who want students to use more creative words are seldom published authors.
      One author uses only ‘said.’ After a bit [two or so pages], I don’t notice it when I read her.
      In one of my novels, I use not use identifiers. The main character, Guillaume Chevalier, was addressed by his boss as Dip-shit; his best friend as Paleface; the chief of detectives as Billy; his girlfriend as Will: And his mother as Guill.
      When in the story, someone said, “Winn, are you coming over tonight?” There’s little doubt it’s Kathy, the girlfriend. You know it’s Mom when, “Damn it, Guill, you got a bullet hole in another sports coat.”
      To add spice, there are two other “Gentlemen, Al and Jerry. Al stutters, and Jerry is a negro.
      The above is the reason I say, speak … listen … write. Also, seeing the speaker in your mind helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I get that. Most of the speakers in my current story don’t really have distinct ways of speaking like that, but I’m sure my dialogue could use some streamlining.

        And my comment about Mr. Jenkins himself… the reason I thought the later books in the Left Behind series were poorly written was because the story had so many characters by then that the plot felt jumpy and disjointed. Also, the early books made good self-contained novels within a larger series, but the later ones relied too much on gimmicky cliffhangers. But none of my complaints with the Left Behind books had anything to do with Mr. Jenkins’ overuse of “said.”

        Like

        • Good point: how many players are the correct amount? Don’t know.
          I like one protagonist with a side-kick. A love interest [or two]. An antagonist and his/her minions.
          Then a few minor players. The list is rounded out with players that only have one name and only appear once –twice at the most.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Lorene. Great encouragement to work on dialogue. Our writing group has been working on it the last few months. It has taken me this long just to try it out! I am finding it can be used in blogs, devotionals, essays, as well as novel. It puts us in the present and grabs the reader.

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