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Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Hi Everyone! Natalie here today. Today, I’m excited to share a tip by author Kathleen Allen about writing good dialogue. Her newest book, HOW TO BE ALMOST FAMOUS IN TEN DAYS, a YA contemporary novel, was released March 16, 2013. Details of the giveaway are at the end of the post.

Talking Heads or How to Write Realistic Dialogue 

Dialogue seems to be one of the writing skills writers love to hate. I’ve heard many writers bemoan how their dialogue feels stilted or unrealistic (or that’s what someone says about it). How do you make your dialogue realistic?

The first thing I would suggest if you are having this problem is to go to a coffee shop, bookstore or anywhere people congregate and listen in on conversations. Take notes only don’t be creepy about it or you may find yourself leaving the establishment before you’ve finished your coffee. If you write young adult novels, go somewhere teens hang out and listen in. You’d be amazed at what you hear. Or maybe not.

The next thing is to take a realistic look at the dialogue in your writing. Do your characters speak to one another without having any sort of action? This is known as the Talking Heads Syndrome. Even if you are clear who is speaking, your reader will not be. Add in some action to go with the dialogue. For example here is a bit of dialogue from a well-known book, see if you can figure out who is speaking.

“Hungry, are you?”
“She always forgets I don’t like corned beef.”
“Swap you for one of these. Go on.”
“You don’t want this, it’s all dry.”

Now here’s the dialogue again:

“Hungry, are you?”
“Starving,” said Harry, taking a large bite out of a pumpkin pasty.
Ron had taken out a lumpy package and unwrapped it. There were four sandwiches inside. He pulled one of them apart and said,
“She always forgets I don’t like corned beef.”
“Swap you for one of these,” said Harry, holding up a pasty. “Go on---“
“You don’t want this, it’s all dry,” said Ron.

I added in the italics for emphasis. See how the second passage reads better than the first? That’s because the author put in actions to go along with the dialogue. And that’s my second tip. Make sure you use action along with dialogue.

The third thing you need to do in order to write realistic dialogue is to read your dialogue out loud. This is one of the best tips for any writer to know. Most computers have a text-to-speech function in your control panel. I downloaded a free software called Natural Reader (http://www.naturalreaders.com/download.php#freewin) but there are others out there you might want to try. The advantage of using a text-to-speech program is that even if you read your writing out loud, you may miss a word because our brains fill in especially if the writing is familiar. But if the computer is reading it to you, you can discover awkward pauses, misspellings or missing words and if the dialogue sounds realistic.

Another tip is to make sure each character has a different style of speaking. I recently read a book with two main characters and their speaking patterns were so much alike, I had no clue who was speaking.
Use dialogue to advance your story. Instead of doing an informational dump, use conversation to convey back story.

My last tip is to read a good screenwriting book because screenwriters have to have good dialogue. I recommend Save the Cat by Blake Synder , Save the Cat Strikes Back or Save the Cat Goes to the Movies.

There are others out there, find one that interests you.


1. Hang out at a coffee shop and take notes on conversations you hear. Make your dialogue realistic.
2. Watch what people do when they talk, what are they doing with their hands? Write down how they gesture, what they hold and so on. Use action to go along with dialogue.
3. Read your dialogue out loud using a text-to-speech program. You can also read it out loud to your cat. I’m sure your cat would approve.
4. Use different styles of speaking to differentiate each character but be careful writing dialect. It can be hard for the reader to stay in the story. It can be done but it has to be done sparingly. Again, listen to how people talk. People don’t speak in long conversations and they don’t call each other by name every time they talk.
When I am talking to my friend I don’t say, “Hi John, how are you doing today? What are you going to order, John? I know the house special is always good here at Joe’s.”
A better example would be: I slid into the cracked, well worn red vinyl booth across from John. He always beat me to Joe’s no matter how much I hurried. The menu’s lay on the table in front of us. I shoved mine aside. “What’s up? I’m gonna get the house special, it’s usually worth getting. You?” I smiled. Well, you get the idea.
5. Use conversation to advance your story instead of doing an informational dump.
6. Read a good screenwriting book to see how screenwriters write dialogue.

What other tips do you use for writing realistic dialogue? Check out my new book, a YA contemporary: HOW TO BE ALMOST FAMOUS IN TEN DAYS released March 16, 2013 by Gypsy Shadow Publishing.
17yo Cassie wants to be “seen” so when she finds a book of rules on how to be famous in ten days she devises a plan---with the help of her BFF---to do just that. She has hilarious and sometimes serious, almost disastrous consequences. Cyrano de Bergerac meets Comedy of Errors with a teen girl.


Buy Link on Amazon:
Buy Link on Nook:


My fingertips drifted across the dusty books stacked haphazardly on the shelf. I wasn’t looking for any particular book title—just wasting time while Rachel searched for a book in the romance section. I walked around the second hand books piled in haphazard stacks on the faded brown carpet in search of a science fiction. Closing my eyes as my fingers flitted over the books, I played a game I used to play when I was younger. If some book wanted me to read it, I’d know by the feeling the book gave me. Forgetting about the piles everywhere I ran into one—or two, I’m not sure—I opened my eyes just as I fell, sending the piles sprawling across the floor. Which, by the way, smelled and looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in centuries.
Rachel called out, “You okay, Cassie?”
“Yes,” I mumbled, sitting up.
No clerk came to my rescue, so I began to restack the books. My elbow was a bit scraped a bit, but otherwise no damage. Sighing, I continued piling up the books until a small yellow book caught my eye.
“How to Be Famous in Ten Days,” I read aloud.
“What?” Rachel asked from the other side of the aisle.
“I found a book,” I yelled back.


On Twitter: @kathleea
On Facebook: Witch Hunter  http://ow.ly/cWMFB 
Author Central page: amazon.com/author/kallen

Kathleen has generously offered an e-book of HOW TO BE ALMOST FAMOUS IN TEN DAYS for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on May 31st. I’ll announce the winner on June 3rd.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Hope to see you tomorrow when I interview one of our followers Lisa Gail Green about her debut novel, DJINN: THE BINDING STONE, a YA paranormal story about a genie. I’ve just started it and it’s fantastic. There will be a giveaway too.


Beth said...

I have quite a few writing books, but I don't own Save the Cat and people keep recommending it to you. I think I'll have to expand my collection by one!

CG @ Paper Fury said...

Good advice on the dialogue. And of course I want to read any book titled "How to be Almost Famous in Ten Days". Yeah, need. ;)

I'm a follower!

Kathleea said...

Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of your blog!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great tips. Its been said that we should include actions with dialogues to give it a realistic feel.

Ann Finkelstein said...

All great ideas.

Robin said...

Love the tips on dialogue. It's a definite work in progress area for me. I'm going to try that software, I think it could really help me. And yes, Save the Cat is an excellent book on writing.

Brenda said...

Great examples and tips on dialogue. Adding Save the Cat to my reading list.

mshatch said...

I have got to get Save the Cat. Thanks for the dialogue tips; I use some of those but not all :)

Theresa Milstein said...

Nice thorough review of good dialogue. Dialogue is one of my favorite bits to write. Over the years, I've taken a few workshops at the NE-SCBWI Conferences, which have really helped me.

Good luck with the book. I love the title!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Fantastic dialogue tips.... I use most of them. Dialogue takes precedence in most of my stories, so knowing how to write it believably is is extremely important.

I've heard a lot about the "Save the Cat" books. I definitely need to check them out.

Congrats on you new release, Kathleen. The premise sounds really entertaining.

Gail Martini-Peterson said...

Good dialogue points here. It is so important as are the realistic beats surrounding the speech. It's true, my cat always approves of my dialogue, but then, he thinks I'm telling him I love him. Who wouldn't like that?

Unknown said...

My favorite stuff to write is dialogue :) I normally do the Talking Heads Syndrome first (didn't know it had a name) and then fill in the action.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Oh, going to a public place like that is a great way to listen in. We tried to do a NaNo write in once but the little conversations going on all around us were wonderfully distracting. lol

Heather Villa said...

Fantastic! Congrats on your book!

My tip - Become an actor!

Yesterday, I was having trouble with a scene involving a chair (believe it or not). So I pretended that I was my character. I felt funny pretending to be a ten year old girl (but no one else was around to see me). But I finally figured out the scene.

Anonymous said...

Excellent tips. I enjoy writing dialogue. I also enjoy listening to real conversations for inspiration.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great tips for dialogue, now I just have to put them into action.

Rosi said...

Thanks for posting this. These are wonderful tips.

Claude Forthomme said...

Thanks for sharing! I consider that writing dialogue is my best feature but I still have to learn, evidently, because you told me things I didn't know...Many heartfelt thanks!

Danielle H. said...

Great tips on dialogue. I'm always looking to learn new ways to improve my writing and often I just need reminders like this. Thanks for sharing. Hope to win the book and I'll share on Facebook.

Reader said...

Great information. Thanks for offering giveaway!


Mary Preston said...

Realistic dialogue can make all the difference to a book. A great post thank you.

Jany said...

Love the diologue. And the book looks very interesting!

Jany said...

jannettanrobinson at yahoo dot com

Jasmine Stairs said...

I love writing dialogue, because I love snark, but my people often all sound the same. I'll have to watch for that.

(I follow by email)

Unknown said...

This is wonderful! I love the bit about hoping. That's the thing that really got me to make my final decision to sign with my agent she had this amazing optimism just leaking out of her pores when she called to offer representation.
training to be a life coach