the official website of
Bob Nailor

Writing Deep Dialog

Placing dialog into a short story or novel isn't as easy as one would think. After all, dialog is just a conversation. Or is it?

"Hi Tom," said Betty.
"Hi Betty," replied Tom.
"What's wrong?" asked Betty.
"Aw, nothing really," said Tom.
"Are you sure? It sure doesn't sound like it," said Betty.

That might be a real conversation but it is even more boring than watching paint dry. Your reader won't consider finishing a page if this is what they are going to be offered. Readers want excitement.

"Hi Tom." Betty waved as she approached on her bicycle.
Tom looked up from his feet and forced a smile. "Hi Betty."
"You okay?" Betty straddled her bicycle and stared at him. Something's bothering him.
"Yeah, I guess so." Tom's left foot scuffed the ground as he avoided eye contract.
"Tell me what's bothering you," Betty demanded. "You're my little brother and I can tell when something is wrong."

Notice the subtle difference between the two conversations? They are basically the same but the second piece of dialog draws the reader in while the first one puts the reader to sleep. I like to call the second version "deep dialog" since it reveals more detail and involves the reader.

Here are four simple things to remember when writing dialog:

This is direct dialog: "Where are you going?" he asked. There is also indirect dialog. This is usually in the form of a thought and denoted by italics without quotations marks. "Where are you going?" he asked. Probably home to mommy. The "Probably home to mommy." is indirect dialog since it was an internal thought.

To really get a good handle on the potential of writing great dialog, go to a mall, restaurant, cafe, bus, or anywhere people gather and eavesdrop. Of course you don't want to appear obvious so I would suggest taking a book along to read and have a notebook and pen ready so you can write down anything that catches your fancy. I don't mean gossip, but word phrases or dialog switches.

"It's true," Jenna said as she fluttered down the mall's thoroughfare with Brittany, Charelle and Tiffany in tow. "Like I really think Billy is totally all together and—Oh my god! Look at that blouse." Jenna shrieked. "I just have to have it!"

The above short dialog didn't have a lot of description but I'm sure you had the image of the action in your mind.

Hone your writing skills by adding deep dialog to your stories. You've come a long way from those days of writing a letter to your grandmother with "How are you. I am fine." Now take the extra two steps and become involved with better dialog, deep dialog.

  Click to add a comment - say something!


Elyse Salpeter
Again, a great writing tip and one I'm working on myself. Really good information here.
~ Reply to this comment ~