Finding the Sweet Spot in Dialogue Writing

Today, Stage Write hosts guest author Staci Stallings:

Over the years I have heard complaints from friends, students, and family that
even if they could write the story they’ve always wanted to tell, they could
never get the dialogue to “sound right.”

To write dialogue, four main modes of communication must dovetail for the
piece to sound believable and honest. The four are:  Writing, Reading, Speaking, and Talking.

First, when writing dialogue, don’t dwell on getting it perfect, listen to it
in your mind, and write it.  Don’t over-think this step.

The second form of communication is reading. Novice writers tend to skip this step.
Once you get your thoughts on paper, there will without question be something
that needs changing because reading is simply not the same as writing. Many
times I have gotten the words on paper, whether it be dialogue or simple prose,
and when I went back and reread it, it did not make the same sense it did coming out of my head. That’s all right. Just change it.

One of the main problems with converting writing to reading is timing. In dialogue, timing is essential because the reader needs to “hear” the rhythm of the speech pattern. Use breaks to help with the rhythm and pacing of dialogue. For example, take two scenes with the same dialogue:

“Well.” She glanced at the door. “I just don’t know right now. Can you come back tomorrow?”

“No.” The firmness of his hands on her shoulders pulled her gaze back to his eyes. “I need an answer now, and I’m not leaving until I get one.”


“Well, I just don’t know right now.” Grabbing up the clothes basket, she pushed through the door into the sunshine. “Can you come back tomorrow?”

He followed her hurried steps through the garden to the clothesline. “No, I need an answer now.” His gaze narrowed as he stepped in front of her. “And I’m not leaving until I get one.”

Both dialogue sections give the reader more information than the simple words. In the first, her glance at the door could mean she is wishing she could run away or that she is hoping someone will come in that door and save her at the last minute. His hands on her shoulders give the impression that they know each other, and he wants to keep her from running.

The second example “feels” very different. In that section, she is running, but he doesn’t seem to know her all that well. In fact, he seems to be more of an adversary in some business deal.

This leads us directly into the question of the actual quotes used in dialogue. The third form of communication is speaking. When rereading your dialogue after you have gotten it on paper, it is important to understand the difference between speaking and talking. Speaking is formal–like a minister giving a sermon or a lecturer giving a speech.

Very often these “speeches” are actually written out before they are delivered, thus causing the difference between speaking and the less formal form of communication-talking.

In writing, however, novice writers will often transfer speaking form into written form and call it done. Then they wonder why their dialogue sounds stilted. The reason is that speaking by its very nature is stilted. It is formal and meant to be so. Therefore, it is not speaking that we, as authors, are aiming at–it is a blend of speaking and talking.

Talking is the fourth form of communication. To learn how to convey realistic talking in dialogue become an active listener. Listen to how people talk. Listen to the inflection, to the tone, to the pitch. Listen to what they are saying beyond the words they use, but listen to the words as well.

So, the skilled writer must aim to have the right amount of talking, mixed with the right amount of speaking, in a written form that can be read while endeavoring to make every information break provide the precise pause necessary to improve the timing of the dialogue and to convey the desired information.  Easy, right?


A stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the
side, Staci Stallings has numerous titles for readers to choose from.  (Pick up the Price of Silence now for only $0.99! Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to
full-out Christian and back again.  Every title is a new adventure!  That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading. Although she lives in Amarillo, Texas and her main career right
now is her family, Staci touches the lives of people across the globe every week with her various Internet endeavors including: Books In Print, Kindle, & FREE on Spirit Light Works:
Spirit Light Books–The Blog:

And… Staci’s website  Come on over for
a visit…You’ll feel better for the experience!



About lynnegentry

Wife. Mother. Writer. Acting Coach. Director of Dallas International Performing Arts Academy.
This entry was posted in Characterization and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Finding the Sweet Spot in Dialogue Writing

  1. Julie Garmon says:

    Good stuff, Staci and Lynne!

  2. Jackie Pajda says:

    Lynne, you are so gifted. Is there a way you could share your talents with students? You have the knowledge and enthusiasm that would attract others to develop their talents. Thanks for sharing. Jackie

  3. Lynne Gentry says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Jackie. I do have several acting students right now. They are a joy!

  4. Julie Marx says:

    “I like it, Lynne.” Julie opened up her story and edited the dialogue according to Lynne’s guidelines.

  5. Mary Gallagher Williams says:

    Lynne, I’m so glad I read this “Finding the Sweet Spot in Dialogue Writing” post. Just what I needed for a scene I’m writing now.

  6. Lynne Gentry says:

    Glad to be of assistance, Mary. Happy writing.

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