Category Archives: Dialogue

Posted this on Tumblr. It’s only fair to repost here.

Earlier today, I posted this snippet from a YA contemporary I’m currently writing. It’s from a book I really like, but I’m less than 1/4 of the way through a first draft and I still have some pretty big things to figure out plot-wise. Mostly, though, what I love about this book is how my two MCs interact with each other in the beginning. There’s such a great play between their personalities!

The section below is from the first chapter of this book, a book that you’ll hopefully see out in the world one day. If I ever finish it. 😉

Let me know what you think!!

Fire Escapes of New York (c) Gregory Runyan

Fire Escapes of New York (c) Gregory Runyan

“You’re not a thief, are you?”

The smile on my lips is impossible to keep away. I glance over my shoulder to find him standing with his hands in his pockets, watching me carefully. “If I was, would I tell you?”

“No,” he says, his lips curving up into a smile. “You’d probably say something just like that.”

I nod and shrug at the same time before turning and continuing to walk away.

“Where you going, Cat?”

This time I turn around completely. “Cat?” And then it clicks and I grin. “As in burglar? Cute.” I laugh and walk a few more steps—backward this time. “I’m going to finish a project.”

“Thought you were escaping.”

I shrug again, an idea taking hold. I slide one hand into my messenger bag and start digging for my camera. “Turns out I didn’t need to.”

He blinks and looks back up at the building as I find my camera and turn it on. “Really? What did you think you were you escaping from?”

“You.” Wiggling my fingers in a girlish approximation of a wave, I pull the camera out of my bag, let the auto-focus take over, click a quick shot, and turn around. Mostly to make sure I’m not about to trip over a curb and fall into traffic. Getting my head crushed by a cab would not be the way to end my day.

“Hey! Wait, wait, wait.” I hear the quick thuds of Converses hitting concrete as he runs to catch up with me. “What do you mean, me? Do I know you?”

He comes up beside me as I turn east toward the subway stop so I shake my head—I still can’t shake my grin. “Nope. Never seen you before in my life.”

“Yet you felt the need to escape from me?” he asks, one black brow disappearing under the brim of his hat. “And why did you take a picture of me?”

“Well, I wasn’t running from you specifically,” I say, quickening my pace and completely ignoring his second question. “Just the person who lived in the bedroom attached to that particular fire escape.”

He’s silent, but only for about two footsteps. “Thanks. That explanation cleared everything right up.”

“People get touchy when you borrow things without asking.”

“So you are a thief?”

“The fire escape is still attached to your building, isn’t it?” He gives me a funny look, but nods. “Then I’m not a thief.”

“You were borrowing the fire escape?” Two more footsteps of silence. “Why?”

“I told you,” I say as I swing into the subway terminal and slide my metro card. “I have a project to finish.”

“What kind of project involves borrowing a fire escape?” he calls through the gate as I walk down the grimy, graffiti covered staircase.

I laugh. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”


That’s all for now! Happy Tuesday everyone!

Dialogue: Writing Natural Conversations

In my previous article Inspiration: Mining the World for Ideas, I mentioned carrying a notebook at all times and recording interesting tidbits of dialogue for stories. In that article I also suggested developing a habit of people watching, a habit that will not only help add depth and humanity to your characters, but realism to their words. This is the article where those two suggestions come together.

Some writers struggle with dialogue, with creating natural, believable speech for their characters. Most people don’t notice the speech habits unless they’re glaringly obvious or obscenely annoying, but each person has a way of speaking shaped by their parents, their friends, the area they live in, and the things they like. I have always been more of a listener than a talker (something that is probably hard to believe given the length of these articles), which is probably how I learned how people talk. I picked up on the kinds of phrasing they use and where they pause, what words they choose and what people never say aloud. This helped immensely in deciphering what the voices in my head were saying, who was saying what, and when something sounded plain wrong coming from a certain character.

Each person and each character has a distinct voice, the trick is learning what exactly makes one voice different from another. For example, imagine someone whose voice sounded exactly like a loved one called and pretended to be them. Assuming they had a strong working knowledge of both you and your loved one’s background (an FBI file, maybe?) and you could only judge their identity from the way they spoke, how long do you think it would take you to figure out it wasn’t them? What would clue you in? is your significant other the only person who calls you Sunshine? Is your best friend the one person you know who says “splendiferous” on a regular basis? Does your mom have a habit of starting every other sentence with “So”? Does your sister pause between every third or fourth word? These little speech habits can be telling character traits.

Next time you’re in a large group of people, listen to them talk. Not necessarily what they say, but how they say it. Take out that notebook and start a dialogue diary. Copy down conversations and study the changes in how people talk. What is different when the conversation is between two people who know each other well? Two strangers? Lovers fighting? Lovers making up? Write down things you notice about how people talk and what that makes you think about them (this works better with strangers). Write down things people do while they’re talking that gives you clues to the things they’re not saying aloud. Are they touchy feely with a particular person even though they insist that person is just a friend? Do they grind their teeth whenever someone mentions politics? Do they suddenly develop a stutter when a teacher asks them a question? Remembering that how someone says something isn’t restricted to the sounds they produce is a key point—some people give a lot away with what they do while they talk—but possibly the most important thing to remember is to read out loud and trust your gut. If something sounds off to your ears don’t second guess yourself, change it. You probably know more than you give yourself credit for.