Hi, everybody.

How you doing out there?

I hope this post is finding you well, and that you are ready to get write on in to some dialogue.

I am your host, Mr. Andrew J. Stillman, and we are almost ready to get write on into National Novel Writing Month.

It’s, like, a week and a half away guys.

Are you ready?

If you’ve stuck with me for the tutorials over the last couple of weeks, I’m hoping that’s a, “yes.”

If you have not seen any videos/post leading up to this one, please feel free to check it out.

Before we get started on today’s topic, if you have not already, please hit that little subscribe button down there, so you can join me from here forward on not only National Novel Writing Month, but the continuation of your journey from there.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now:

Dialogue is my favorite.

I don’t know why, but that being said, without further ado,

Let’s Get Write On In.

Okay, so.


Some people hate it, some people love it.

Out of anything in my writing career, my dialogue has been the most consistently complimented portion of my craft.

It feels weird saying that out loud. People consistently tell me they wish their dialogue could be more like mine.

I don’t know how to take that.

We all have various strengths and weaknesses. I just wanted to talk about some ways to focus on and improve your dialogue writing so you don’t get too caught up in conversations with your characters.

My first two tips are going to come at you really fast before I embellish on them, because they are exactly the same thing, but the exact opposite.

What the bloody chimpanzee does that mean?

#1 Base Your Dialogue Off of Real Conversations

But wait a minute —

#2 Do NOT Base Your Dialogue Off of Real Conversations

And whoa, Nelly, could those two pieces of advice be any different from each other?

Slow your horses, it’s fine, I got you. Remember?

Now it’s time for the breakdown.

#1 Base Your Dialogue Off of Real Conversations

I want to start off by focusing on that first word, there: Base.

Think about it this way.

You see a trailer for some scary-ass horror movie. If it’s some sort of haunted house or demon possession type thing (we’re in October right now, the theme is nigh), it’s most likely going to come with some sort of “Based on a True Story” tag.

That means while some elements in the movie — or book, because, horror books are just as subject to this — might be true, for the most part, events are exaggerated or molded or tweaked around to make the linear story make more sense.

Events may be added or taken away depending on any variation of what that means. The end result is modified to the extent where the creative work becomes “fictional” instead of a “documentary” or “biographical” type piece.

So while it’s important to base your dialogue off of real conversations, let’s talk about

#2 Do NOT Base Your Dialogue Off of Real Conversations

This simply means that dialogue should not be copied based on how a real conversation might take place.

Think of the amount of times you might say, “I mean,” or, “like,” or, “so,” or any other “filler word” that — myself included — people just naturally put in to fill time or nervous space.

Even if you were to read the subtitles on my videos — which, number one, you’re welcome for transcribing myself, and number two, we’ll talk about subtitles again in a minute — you would see the amount of times filler words like the ones I just mentioned show up throughout these videos.

And it’s probably something I wouldn’t have noticed as in-depth if I had not transcribed all of these videos. If you’ve ever watched How I Met Your Mother — anything before season 9, of course — you can think of Robin Scherbotsky and her whole “but um” habit that results in a college drinking game.

Taking these two bits of advice moves us forward into:

#3 Use Cultural Significance to Influence Your Dialogue

Since we’ve done all of this character and setting and plot development throughout the course of these tutorial videos, what I mean by this is to consider everything about what influences and drives your character when you’re writing out your dialogue.

For instance, if someone is relatively snobbish and is brought up surrounded by money and thinks lesser of the people around them, they’re probably not going to say something like, “Let’s all smear mud on our faces and rub our poo across the city streets.”

You never know, though, because — first draft mode, you do whatever you want.

But what I’m trying to say here is to think about where the person speaking is from, their general mannerisms, and how they act, so that the dialogue attributes you give them don’t come across as something out of character.

You want whatever is said to sound as natural as possible, even though you’re consciously removing those filler words.

This also goes back to point number one, though, in basing your dialogue off of the way people really speak. Especially when it comes to people you interact with who are from a different race, culture, religion, or anything else in between than what you affiliate with.

#4 Use Subtitles to Improve Your Dialogue Skills

Okay, so, this is one I’m going to talk about for a few minutes, because 

1 — I swear by this. I will always swear by this. I cannot emphasize this enough when it comes to dialogue.

2 — I wrote a post about this for The Write Practice a few years ago. People seemed to really enjoy the exercise, and I wanted to bring it up again to include with this novel-writing series.

So, first up:

It not only helps you with your reading speed, but for me, it also helps me connect a lot more with what’s going on. There’s never really any of this, “What did they just say?” business.

Before I continue, I just want to address what I already hear people saying — and I mean this literally because of the people who watch stuff with me in person — I get that subtitles are annoying.

At first.

If you saw or read my connecting with your inner voice post, think about the apple and the bed exercises we did in that one. Look at words like pictures or shapes.

This trick, paired with the auditory addition as delivered by the actor, will help you learn how to just look at words and register them visually, with the spoken word adds to the cementation of that into your brain.

My whole thing with subtitles was that I actually started using them because someone else told me that they’d noticed an increase in their reading speed after they’d started using them.

I wanted to test that theory to see if I agreed (which I obviously do.)

I was right there on the train talking about how annoying they were, and now I just feel weirder when the screen is without them.

When you’re doing this whole subtitle study thing, though, I don’t really want you to stress about it.

Like in that exercise on The Write Practice, I’d like you to practice with the following:

Fast-forward to 7:56 in the above-included video to see a more thorough explanation of this.

  1. Transcribe the Conversation
  2. Add the Action
  3. Complete the Scene

This doesn’t have to be for your work in progress. It can and also should be from a scene from your favorite movie or TV show.

But when it comes to the whole “studying” thing, just start leaving them on and paying attention to them.

Notice how some lines look kind of dull and bland when you’re reading them, but then how the inflection and the tone, or perhaps even the facial expressions or the actions of the actor really drive that home.

Plus, like “hybrid publishing,” reading through subtitles is basically “hybrid reading,” where you’re essentially reading along with an audiobook that is being played out before your eyes.

Dialogue is about so much more than the words that occupy the space in between the quotation marks. It’s about how the characters deliver it. What they’re doing as they speak. It is also just as subject to “show” vs “tell” because, honestly…

Dialogue tags are a pit for info dump traps, which leads me to: 

#5 Don’t “Tell” Your Story Through the Dialogue

I talk about this in my Monster Whisperer review. A lot of times, dialogue turns into sections of paragraphs and paragraphs of a character saying, “we did this, then that happened, this is why this is that way,” etc.

These info dumps are just as bad when they’re written in dialogue as when they’re written in actionable paragraphs. This particular piece of advice is also something to be left more for the editing stage of the game.

Since we’re still in the first draft stages, I’m still going to encourage you to make mistakes. 

You have to.

It’s the only way you’re going to learn.

But don’t be afraid to make those mistakes. The exploration of this craft is something that no one else will ever understand but you.

The journey your story is going to take you on is going to be unlike anything you’ve ever done before.

Okay, everyone.

We’ve got one last book review for this project on Sunday, one video left on Tuesday about understanding all these sensory details, a roundup video next Thursday, and then…

Oh, my good lord to the high heavens it’s going to be time to get write on in to National Novel Writing Month.

Please let me know if you have any questions about today’s topic, and I will do my best to respond and help you out to the best of my abilities.

I’m getting so nervous.

I hope you are, too.

See you next week!

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