The Trick to Writing Great Conversations

The trick to writing great conversations is dear god how the hell am I supposed to know? Who COULD know?

Seriously, do you understand how hard it is to pen dialogue that sounds real and natural but that also gets across the information you need to get across?

‘Cause that’s the thing, really. In a book or a short story or comic or whatever, dialogue isn’t merely people talking. It has to get across information. That information may be characterization or character history or plot details or exposition or mood or a million other things, but the point is that dialogue should be there for a reason.

Yet at the same time, it should feel perfectly natural. Perfectly real. Perfectly alive. Otherwise readers will cry “FAKE!” and be pulled out of your story.

How do you do that?

If there was some easy writing shortcut I’d have mastered the art long ago, and so would thousands of other writers. Fact is, dialogue is a fuzzy weird not-quite-science you have to do on “feel.” It takes practice to be able to make it work on a consistent basis. It’s a writing muscle, really.

You can flex that muscle and make it stronger, though.

Once in a while, I like to do something like this: I think of two or three or four varied and different people. I put them in a room together with a vague purpose or, more commonly, with a weird hook to get a conversation started. For example:

Priest with guilt about recently seeing an escort/call girl, stereotypical soccer mom with a pill problem, and a terribly shy 17-year-old kid who is also high are the only passengers in a bus that has just run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. The driver just left to walk to the nearest gas station an hour away.


Get it? You have to crawl into all three heads and just let fly.

But not really.

If you’re telling a story, you can’t actually do that. Every word counts. Real conversations are rambling and stupid. So you write these people chatting it up, then you slice it to ribbons in order to get it down to the point and to advance the story the way it needs to be advanced. It may take draft after draft after draft after draft, with each draft involving changes of a single line or even a single word each time.

But that’s how you boil it down to perfection.

Writing real, good, true dialogue that crackles but that also serves its purpose is HARD. But it’s worth it.

If you want, take my writing prompt above and give me a few lines in the comments. If I get a few, I’ll do my version in a future post and we’ll talk writing!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *