A Political Thriller

“An entertaining political thriller—smart and engrossing. No shortage of political intrigue depicted with astuteness and emotional drama.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Writer’s Tips: Keys to Writing Dialogue

The keys to writing dialogue? Appreciate the fundamental purposes are to; develop characters and propel your plot. There are sub-purposes, but those are the two basics.

I am the author of Center Stage—A Political Thriller, a novel about a rock star’s exit from the Las Vegas stage to the United States Senate.  I also authored Success at Mediation, a self-help book for attorneys, for one year, part of the reading at the USC School of Law. I have practiced law for over 25 years, I assure you, writing fiction creates more significant pleasure than drafting a lease addendum.

Here are some ideas to hone your dialogue.

  1. Cut it to the bone. Brief, concise. Dialogue can be a delicious appetizer, but it is not a complete meal. Focus on the most essential dialogue, eliminating or reducing words not necessary. Please, please, do not have “You’re kidding” or “How are you?” Slam the accelerator and go right for the action or replace superfluous dialogue with nonverbal reactions.
  2. Read your dialogue. Read it out loud. Listen to each word. Be a harsh critic, look for edits, look for consistency, be sure each character has its own distinctive voice. Your grandmother does not say the same words or speak at the same pace or tone as your 22-year-old niece.
  3. Reduce dialogue tags. If two people are speaking, use a tag judiciously to establish the speaker’s identity. Eliminate a series of tags; “said,” “shouted,” “boomed.” Use them surgically. Establish the speaker and show, not tell, that one speaker is agitated. Perhaps a clenched hand opening and closing, fingers tapping a desk. Deep breaths. Show not tell. If this blog was written a year ago, I would advise you to observe, watch, and listen to people. Not every emotion is conveyed with dialogue. Study how one person acts without speaking or acts to enhance their speech. In my sequel to Center Stage, I am modifying a couple of scenes by reducing the number of characters. This streamlined the plot, eliminating confusion about which character was speaking and reduced the tags. “Said,” is never exciting.
  4. Silence can be loud. If two people are talking and occasionally go silent, that dead air can be meaningful; adding mannerisms can convey feelings. You do not have to say what is being unsaid, build the scene with actions, gestures, idiosyncrasies, show how one character is dominant, show one character may be angry or frustrated to even be present.
  5. Characters Have their Unique Voice. One character may fill a paragraph with dialogue, another may respond within one sentence. What does that tell you about the two characters? Is one chatty, nervous, verbose, egotistical? Is the other quiet, studious, or merely disillusioned with the other and cannot wait to exit? Picture a dinner scene between two characters on a blind date. The man signals his delight with the menu choices by grunting, “yeah.” His companion expresses pleasure with the menu in flowery language, menus at famous restaurants cannot compare, spices they used in their own culinary creations, a sweet moment to recall a mother’s recipe. One grunt, the other is an English professor in expressing their pleasure at the menu. Unless it is part of the story arc with a character’s change in circumstances, dialogue should be consistent.
  6. Avoid clichés. I would not veto all clichés but use sparingly to establish one character’s persona. In my novel Center Stage, the protagonist’s father is an older man who resorts to “old sayings” to demonstrate his points. His son gently tweaks the lines. The use conveyed the purpose of establishing the father’s age, time, and mindset.
  7. Reduce small talk. Unless it serves a specific purpose, such as conveying the characters’ unease at a social event—please, please, avoid, “Hey, how you are doing?” or “I’m great.”
  8. Learn from your mistakes. Be a self-critic but accept the pleasure of writing a great scene. The famed author John Grisham stated that he would pull every book off the shelf and rewrite most of the scenes. If I had the opportunity, I would edit Center Stage and further reduce the dialoguebut the novel garnered over fifty positive reviews on Amazon, so I’m letting it go. Be kind to yourself, edit, and then let it go.

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Center Stage Cover
January 12, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-64543-794-9