WFC – Dialogue Panel

In following with a pattern of sorts, I feel like one of my writing strengths is dialogue. So this time I decided to send the ego out for a break and find out if there was more I could learn. It’s good to strengthen your weaknesses, but even better to build up your strengths, right?

This was presented by Mette Ivie Harrison who spelled dialogue as dialog, which apparently is technically correct, but it bothered me the whole time! People, it’s D-I-A-L-O-G-U-E. Okay, enough of that. Onto the notes.


Characters can talk about themselves to other characters. People naturally reveal themselves to others in conversation, but it must be comfortable. Avoid ‘uh’ ‘um’ etc.

Examples used: Code Name Verocity, Life As We Knew It


Each character wants something different. Each character should have a different verbal style to get this. One could be passive, the other aggressive. Shouting is not the only way to show conflict in dialogue. Whispering, twisting words, sarcasm—all work as well.

Example used: An Ideal Boyfriend


It can reveal information that is necessary for the resolution of plot, but be careful how you approach it. And it can resolve problems and conflicts.

Example used: The False Prince


But be careful of maid/butler dialogue. Those scenes where almost completely unimportant characters reveal the one piece of vital information that moves the plot forward. They can even be semi-important characters, but whose only purpose is to convey that information before disappearing completely or being killed. Point being, if they already know it they won’t talk about it. (This is something I didn’t like about Dr. Whatshisface in Pontypool.)

If you use this method, have a character who is ignorant be involved in the conversation. Or have the conversation be between two people who debate the info given. Take Harry Potter, for example. (KATE!) Because he doesn’t know the world, then he can explain it to the readers naturally.

JAE NOTE: At this point she generally quit selecting samples from other works and stuck to the ones she knows: her own. Sure, it’s perfectly fine to do a bit of shameless promotion of your own stuff. I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable even doing the one example. But anyway, it caused me to wonder if she doesn’t take as much time to read other things? I mean, go to Harry Potter if you need examples for crying out loud! 😉 Does anyone else feel like this was a bit self-serving? Anyway, for the rest of these, just go find one of Mette’s books, according to her.


Make the reader feel something is not the same as the characters feeling it. The characters may not react to pain, but the reader will. Characters may also not be able to cheer for a final kiss, but readers will.


Silence can be as potent a response as any paragraph of words. There is more than one way to convey silence. You can use misdirection figuratively and say everything but what will gradually become clear to the reader is truth (for that story. Also, I didn’t quite get what she meant. I think lead your readers down a wrong path, all the while laying the groundwork that shows them the truth they arrive at in the end was there all along).

Anyway, one of my favorite dialogue scenes is between Han and Leia. Because they knew Han’s character well enough, they knew this scene should play out exactly like this:

We were running out of time, so 7-9 she did rather fast. I couldn’t make many notes before she read more samples from her books.

#7 Use a twist to make your dialogue pop.
#8 Witty banter is an old classic of great dialogue.
#9 Zingers make great dialogue.


But don’t overuse them. If it’s clear which character is speaking, you don’t need a tag. Don’t tell us the emotion conveyed if it’s already obvious.

Example used: The Queen of Attolia

JAE NOTE: She wanted to put in desperately for one of her samples, but I think you should write it so we can conclude that it is desperate. It’s harder, but your readers will appreciate it more.


Despite a few bothers, I still enjoyed attending this forum. All of these points served as good reminders. I intend to take all the points and see if they help me find areas where my novel’s dialogue could be improved.

Did you learn anything new? What are your writing strengths? Is dialogue one of them? Do you agree with her advice? Disagree?

12 thoughts on “WFC – Dialogue Panel

  1. Very interesting. I’m a fan of dialogue, so I enjoyed this post in the same ‘building up the strengths way’. I mean, I like to think that dialogue is my strength…even if mine can be a bit weird. I think it might be because when I struggle with conveying voice in text, I can convey it through dialogue.

    #6 “for that story. Also, I didn’t quite get what she meant. I think lead your readers down a wrong path, all the while laying the groundwork that shows them the truth they arrive at in the end was there all along).” I’m a little confused by point #6, too. I mean, I get that silence is as good a character indicator as words, but the idea of using misdirection ‘figuratively’ is a little confusing.
    “#7 Use a twist to make your dialogue pop.” What sort of thing did she mean by this?

    • On #6 I think she means not physical misdirection, but maybe more of a sort of philosophical misdirection—with words? Make your words mean more than they’re actually saying? That’s how I took it anyhow.

      #7. Not sure. Maybe the whole saying “I hate you” when you really mean I love you or something? When she started solely using her own examples things tended to fall apart.

      Still, she had some good points in there.

  2. Again, Harry Potter! She probably could have used it for every single example, right?

    I’ve been told that dialogue is one of my strengths, but I’m not the best judge of my own work. I agree with everything, though I’d add that while witty banter is awesome, it can become ridiculous very quickly if it’s trying too hard.

    When I’m reading, I like dialogue mixed with meaningful action, especially if it helps eliminate dialogue tags. A nervous character rubbing the back of his neck (tension) or sipping water (dry mouth) is meaningful; him swatting a fly just because nothing has happened for a few lines is not, and doesn’t usually have any business mixed into the dialogue. There, that’s my two cents added. 🙂

    • It’s a good two sense. Very important not to overdo it when it comes to dialogue.

      And honestly, Kate, I don’t know why she DIDN’T use Harry Potter for every single example.

  3. I agree with most of these points, except for the “zingers.” The dialogue should be interesting, but also not call out itself for being clever and witty.
    Most of my dialogue is strong – though first drafts have some wince-worthy moments when it doesn’t match the character’s voice.
    One thing I’ve been working on is weaving silence into dialogue. In both my work in progress, and a novella I’m polishing, silence is an important aspect of the character, and adds a lot to the overall tension.
    And, more Harry Potter references are always better than self-referentialness – more people would be familiar with the example.

    • Seriously, I just thought it was a bit weird she was using her own work. A lot. I think she’s more of a romance writer, so I guess that’s more zinger-friendly? I didn’t really get the zinger thing. I guess zinger sounds too hoaky to me. Maybe more along the lines of great lines the reader wishes they could say but lack to courage to do so? Something like that?

  4. I feel like dialog is one of my strengths, too…and you’re right, that does look really strange. Okay, I won’t write it that way again. 😉 That’s actually one of the reasons I enjoy Joss Whedon’s “Buffy;” I feel like the dialogue between characters really flows nicely and feels natural, with each character having their own verbal tics, etc. It’s also one of my favorite parts of Harry Potter – listening to the audio versions, I can really get a sense of each character through their conversations, and it just seems…right.

    • Jim Dale is the whole other Harry Potter experience everyone should try at least once. I love how he does Malfoy, and Umbridge and Snape, and—well, I guess just everyone!

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