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"everyone knows it's the character's inner monologue and descriptions of setting and scene which truly makes a book -- and the characters -- come alive through description, not action."

Bullshit. Utter bullshit. Long passages of "purple prose" drag a book down.

"who do you think excels at dialogue in any genre, not just crime fiction?"

You're pretty damn good. I also like the way Ken Bruen uses dialogue. But you're right. Elmore Leonard is the undisputed master.

We have a playwright in my writing group so I am very aware of how difficult dialogue is to do, especially when it has to carry the entire story as it does in a play. When we see his plays on the stage, this is brought home even more. Dialogue has become increasingly important as we have become more visually-oriented (which dialogue speaks to) and denying that is futile.

To me, dialogue reveals as much character as action does. Unless they are excellent, I tend to skim descriptive passages as a book goes on, but I always pay attention to what characters say.

I agree with you about balance. Tags shouldn't be over- or underused. Dialogue shouldn't repeat information revealed in internal monologue, and internal monologue shouldn't disrupt the flow of dialogue.

Here's an example of disruption:

"I'm leaving you," she said.

What did she mean? "Come again?" I said.

"Are you really surprised?"

I guessed not. "No..."

Robert B. Parker used to be good at dialogue, but I think he's gotten used to the way his stock characters talk and doesn't have a good sense of how people talk today. While it's true that characters' dialogue has to flow more smoothly than real talk does, dialogue should have the ring of real talk, as if you might say it if you were in the character's situation.

Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet, Wendy Wasserstein, Susannah Grant...etc.

Whoever the reviewer was showed his or her ignorance - really sharp dialog which does multiple jobs looks easier when it works well -- it looks natural when it is doing multiple jobs. Comedy, for example, is exceptionally difficult. Making the dialog funny while forwarding the story and the plot and staying in character and organically foreshadowing... always the most difficult part of the writing.

What an asshat.

We should add Pinter to this list.

I worry that I write too much dialogue and that I'm really writing, what one reviewer said was "a screenplay disguised as a novel."

But fuck him too.

I was on a panel not long ago with Da Chen and a woman who teaches writing but who's never been published. She said dialog is lazy writing and takes away from character development. Da Chen and I both spoke up pretty quickly, pointing out that dialog enhances character development and can define character in a way all that purple prose can't.

I don't understand people who criticize the use of dialogue. It is my favorite part of both reading and writing. I'm right with you Leonard. I'd add Jane Austen, Martin Amis. And Joseph Heller's Catch 22 has some of the best dialogue -- internal and external -- that I've ever read.

Thanks, Dusty :)

Patti and David, I've never attempted a screenplay, it scares the crap out of me, but I think I know when dialogue is excellent onscreen.

Gerald, you're exactly right, and run on taglines are even worse. When I speak to beginning writers, they're always amazed at how many taglines you can cut and how it doesn't change the meaning of the exchange. I find myself skimming long passages too.

Shout out to Toni, who manages to make dialogue hysterically funny, and makes it look easy when we all know how damn difficult that is :0

Karen, interesting the dialogue critic hasn't been published and woe to the students in her class...

Alison, Austen's clever banter has withstood the test of time, hasn't it?

I'll second all of the bullshits, but I will say that some books rely too heavily on bad dialogue. And I would rather read bad description and prose than bad dialogue.

I love dialogue though, so for me sometimes it can be lazy writing. I'll get into a groove and ignore everything else because I don't really care where its set or what else in going on. That's usually fixed in rewrites though.

I'd add Kevin Smith the those who do dialogue well. And though his novels are full of ripe, sometimes awful dialogue, Joe Konrath does some amazing things with dialogue in his short stories, especially the Phinn Trout ones. And Dennis Lehane is great with dialogue, so is Victor Gischler--Funny dialogue is even harder to write than good dramatic dialogue.

I agree with you, Lori. Dialogue is one of the most difficult parts of writing. You need to stay in character--with word choices and corresponding actions. It's not about talking heads, it's about the conversation and result of that conversation for the people involved. I read all my dialogue out loud during the page proof stage to make sure it *sounds* right. I also have brief dialogue scenes as part of an investigation, rather than a paragraph where my protagonist simply states what information they learned from person A. Even if person A never comes on again, it makes it more immediate and real to put the conversation in so the reader can experience learning info with the protagonist.

Again, it's about balance. I tend to have too much internalization in my books, but it's probably because I torture my characters with tragic backstories and angst. I'm always striving to improve my dialogue.

Toni is a master of dialogue that moves the story, I totally agree! Another friend of mine, Karin Tabke (who writes erotic romantic suspense) has great dialogue. It's snappy and you can really hear the characters talking (or fighting). JD Robb has the best dialogue out there. It's fast, it moves, it's immediate, and each of her character voices are unique.

I hate to be the skunk at the party, but sometimes dialogue can go on too long, and can give a book a glacial pace. It all depends on how the writer uses it -- some scenes require almost all dialogue, and some could use narrative summary in the right places to cover things that aren't so important.

Elmore Leonard is fantastic with dialogue. I also love George Pellicanos, Carl Hiaasen, Harlan Coben and Robert Crais. And Lori - your dialogue is great!

Oscar Wilde was another master in this area.

Going back to something from Lori's post:

"Do you think the whole 'showing versus telling' school of thought means description, not action, not verbal interplay?"

Good dialogue is more showing than straight telling; it has subtext where internal monologue and omniscient narration do not. When people (or characters) talk, they show as much by they say as by what they choose not to say.

Gerald's second comment is right on the money for me - good dialogue is more showing than telling.


i love writing pages and pages of dialogue, then tracking back to fill in with description and prose. I do find it easier to get out what I want to say. Anytime I come across times I need description, I leave it and move on with more dialogue. Honestly I don't care if this is lazy or not. It works for me and I'm stickin' to it.

you can't right a perfect dialogue, because there's a lot of things that you can't put in a paper...

I'm a straight atheist woman who always thought of the parallels between the two groups. Finding myself keeping my mouth shut on so many occasions about my lack of belief really made me respect gays who are not shy about who they are. I still don't have the nerve to say it most of the time unless I'm in the company of people I really trust. Anyway, that made me look around the rest of your site and there's great stuff here, thanks!!

Ummm no offense to the moron reviewer but that's just stupid. Dialog is what makes text worth reading. That woman needs to read Shakespeare. He wasn't short on dialog....freaking idiot woman. Ignore her.

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