How To Write Good – no, AMAZING – Dialogue

dan
your humble host

People tell me I write good dialogues in my stories.

It’s true.

Actually, I write great dialogues.

You wanna do that, right?

I like to see how things are done behind the scenes, so I figured maybe you guys would, too. Here, I set aside one of my early drafts of The Water Castle and Poggibonsi to show how I evolve my patented dialogues.

Tomorrow, I’ll give you more examples to help you see the process.

My characters tend to talk a lot, but they – like yours – have to do things during the conversation or it gets dull fast.

So I laid out the process. I’m nice that way.

This post will answer all you questions about writing dialogue and solve all your problems, but it’s long. It’s also free, so read it or save it for later, but use it.

This is what you want if you wanna learn to write great dialogues like mine, and I show you my step by step process with real examples from my books.

A: The Idea. Why are we having this scene and its dialogue in the first place?

Dialogues exist in stories to:

  • ask a question
  • exchange information
  • advance the plot
  • maybe other stuff, but I doubt it

Basically, everything in a story is supposed to reveal character or advance the plot, so dialogues will do both – if they’re done well.

B: The Process.

First, I think up what these people need to convey in the scene.

Then I try to have each person’s speeches be quick, pithy, and irreverent. Sarcastic. Not mean, because they love each other, but instilled with the barbs that only friends and family can trade.

Second, I add the beats

Beats are the little actions people do while talking, like scratch their head when they’re confused – to make the scene seem real.

THEN it gets edited.

 

Okay? Okay.

BEFORE YOU START

  • DON’T just have your characters sit at a table and talk. That’s boring.

  • DON’T have all the information come easily. That’s boring.

  • DO have somebody interrupt or disagree. That’s teasing the reader as you wait and wait and wait to tell us what we wanna know. Teasing is good. It’s also known as TENSION – and tension drives stories.

  • DO add as much witticism as you can stand. Some people are funny. They’re more interesting to listen to in a book. Try to inject some of that into one of your characters. Readers love it. (So do moviegoers. Think Han Solo in Star Wars, or Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park.)

Here’s our first example from The Water Castle

PART ONE: JUST THE WORDS

When I do this, I just bang it out like a script or a play. This is big part of your voice, how you’d say something.

Gina took the passenger seat as her aunt Sam settled in behind the wheel. “Okay, kid, time to roll. Which way?”

“That way. Airport exit.”

“Aha. I think I missed that one last time.”

“Last time?”

“So tell me what’s up. You seeing any guys? Going steady? Getting laid?”

“Oh, my God! No.”

“Really? I mean, good. That’s good. How’s your mom been lately? I worry about her.”

“She’s okay. She’s all work, all the time, just like always.”

“What about this weekend. Is she okay? That’s partly why I came.” (NOTE: This is a tease. Why is this weekend special? Don’t answer right away. Make your reader wonder.)

“I guess so. She…”

“She what?”

“I guess – it’s just not fair sometimes. I mean, how things went.”

“Like what things.” (I said punctuation doesn’t count in a first draft, especially in dialogues.)

“Like everything. I’ve seen pictures from when I was a kid. We had a nice house, we had a pool. She alternates between idolizing him and being mad at him for not being here and our lives turning to shit.”

“Him, who? Your dad?”

“Yeah. Now we live in a crappy part of town and- ”

“She made decisions she had to make.”

“She made bad ones.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“She’s so boring. She never goes out, except for work. She doesn’t date or anything.”

“Sounds like somebody else I know.”

“All she does is work and fuss at me.”

“Well that sucks. Meanwhile, you’re suffering because you lost one parent but you’re pushing the other one away. Look, the big house, the swimming pool, those are just possessions. Money was tight after Steve passed away. Your mom did what she had to do for you and your little brother. He was a baby.”

“That I practically had to raise myself.”

“Yeah… so she scaled back. And I admit it, you did have to grow up kinda fast. But money, well, it doesn’t buy happiness.”

“Said the woman who reserved a Corvette for the weekend.”

“Good point. You drive. You need some practice anyway.”

“Drive what?”

“That.”

The headlights illuminated the sports car’s glistening yellow exterior as it sat in front of the house. Its fiberglass body was so sleek and curvy it looked more like a Transformer or space ship than an automobile.

Gina leaned forward. “I get to drive that?”

“If you want to. Consider it additional punishment for accidentally acting like a regular teenager by skipping school.”

“I don’t know. Mom would get mad.”

“Good thing she’s not here. The text message says the keys are under the driver’s side door mat. And if I reply with my confirmation number, they’ll unlock it with the Onstar. So let’s see. Send. Let’s go check.”

They walked to the car.

“Do I really get to drive this?”

“Only if it unlocks. There we go. Get in.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. Time to loosen up and have fun, sweetie. Be a kid for a while. Break a few rules. And if you drive, I can have a nice glass of merlot with my aged beef, bacon wrapped, cooked medium, filet mignon.

“I’m under age. That would be illegal.”

“Not as illegal if I drink and drive. C’mon.”

Doesn’t really read like a book, does it? But you see the fast pace and seemingly thoughts going all over the place. Questions raised but not answered.

Now, you see this plot (as expressed in this dialogue) potentially going all over the place, but in that single (and somewhat long) dialogue, how many questions did we raise – and how many did we answer?

Is your reader intrigued? Are you?

You are already starting to like Sam aren’t you? Why? (Because A, Gina does; and B, Sam is witty and irreverent. A rule breaker. People like witty and irreverent rule breakers if they are charming, and charm comes from empathy and charisma. But C, Sam is concerned for the family members.)

Let your reader put two and two together. They’re smart. They’ll get it.

No spoon feeding.

PART TWO: JUST THE BEATS

A list of some things you do when you get in a car to go to the airport.

Get in car

Adjust seat belt

Touch up makeup

Fix hair

Pick at or check your teeth

Start ignition

Start driving

Look in mirror

Look at passenger

Notice other cars

Take the exit into the airport

Pull up to the curb

Get out the bags

Hugs and kisses

Go inside

Drivers pull away from the curb

Take the exit on the interstate

Merge into traffic

Make a few turns

Pull onto your street

Next, after dropping off the traveler

You get in car

Maybe you start the engine

You put the car in drive

You slowly pull on the street

You get some instructions on how to keep the car the proper lane, with a new driver

You speed up or slow down

Usually more issues on keeping car centered, with a new driver

Then making a turn

Turning onto a side street

Speed up

Hold onto dashboard

Grip wheel

Yell at each other

PART THREE: COMBINE AND STIR

Blend. It’s not math, it’s jazz. Put in what feels right from the list and add whatever else comes to mind. Visualize what the people are doing and try to describe it. The list is really a prompt, not something to use verbatim. Stuff for here and there, that you might add. Now it should read more like a story.

Gina took the passenger seat as Sam settled in behind the wheel. “Okay, kid, time to roll. Which way?”

“That way. Airport exit.”

“Aha. I think I missed that one last time.”

Gina buckled her seat belt. “Last time?”

“So tell me what’s up.” Sam put the car into drive and pulled away from the curb. “You seeing any guys? Going steady? Getting laid?”

“Oh, my God! No.” (NOTE: Probably would be fun to show Gina’s facial reaction here.)

“Really? I mean, good. That’s good.” She merged the vehicle into the flow of the airport traffic. “How’s your mom been lately? I worry about her.”

Gina stared out the window. Somewhere behind the office buildings and housing developments, the sun dipped into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, sending brilliant orange and yellow reflections onto the clouds. “She’s okay. She’s all work, all the time, just like always.” (This description of the sunset totally sets the mood and scene, and does it in very few words.)

“What about this weekend. Is she okay? That’s partly why I came.”

“I guess so. She…”

Sam glanced at Gina. “She what?”

“I guess – it’s just not fair sometimes. I mean, how things went.”

“Like what things?”

Gina threw her hands in the air. “Like everything.” She sighed. “I’ve seen pictures from when I was a kid. We had a nice house, we had a pool. She alternates between idolizing him and being mad at him for not being here and our lives turning to shit.”

Sam looked for her exit. “Him, who? Your dad?”

“Now we live in a crappy part of town and- ”

“Hey, your mom made decisions that she had to make.”

Gina continued watching the scenery go by. The houses got smaller and older as they went. “She made bad ones.” (Another drip of setting, noting the houses getting smaller and older. What’s that tell you? Dribble it in here and there.)

Sam made a turn. “I… I don’t know about that.”

“She’s so boring. She never goes out, except for work. She doesn’t date or anything.”

“That sounds like somebody else I know.”

Gina propped her elbow on the door, resting her chin in her palm. “All she does is work and fuss at me.”

“Well that sucks. Meanwhile, you’re suffering because you lost one parent but you’re pushing the other one away. Look, the big house, the swimming pool, those are just possessions. Money was tight after… your dad passed. Nikki did what she had to do for you and your little brother. Kyle was just a baby.”

“That I practically had to raise myself.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah… so she scaled back. And I admit it, you did have to grow up kinda fast. But money, well, it doesn’t buy happiness.”

“Said the woman who reserved a Corvette for the weekend.”

“Good point.” Sam pulled over. “You drive. You need some practice anyway.”

“Drive what?”

“That.”

The headlights illuminated the glistening yellow exterior of a sports car as it sat in front of the house. Its fiberglass body was so sleek and curvy it looked more like a Transformer or space ship than an automobile.

Gina leaned forward. “I get to drive that?”

“If you want to.” Sam sat back, folding her arms. “Consider it additional punishment for accidentally acting like a regular teenager by skipping school.”

“I don’t know.” Gina’s voice fell to a whisper. “Mom would get mad.”

Sam chuckled. “Good thing she’s not here.” She plucked her phone from her purse. “The text message says the keys are under the driver’s side door mat. And if I reply with my confirmation number, they’ll unlock it with the OnStar. So let’s see.” She pressed a button. “Okay. Let’s go check.”

They walked to the Corvette. Gina stared at it in amazement. “Do I really get to drive this?”

“Only if it unlocks.” Sam stared at the doors, waiting. A short, slightly rumbly noise emanated from the car, along with a flash of the tail lights. She smiled. “There we go. Get in.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.” Sam opened the passenger door. “Time to loosen up and have fun, sweetie. Be a kid for a while. Break a few rules. And if you drive, I can have a nice glass of merlot with my aged beef, bacon wrapped, cooked medium, filet mignon.”

Gina opened the driver’s door. “I’m under age. That would be illegal.”

“Not as illegal if I drink and drive. C’mon.”

Okay, so you see how it’s coming together – but still needs some smoothing out of rough edges.

Remember, I don’t really make a list of beats per se; I do lay out the speech and then go back and add the linear actions that have to happen (you have to get to the airport before you take your suitcase out of the car), but stuff life resting your head on your palm, that needs to come from the feel of the scene.

Then I add placeholder beats – you’ll see quite a few sighs – to remind me to have an action there, just not necessarily that action. Or that action conveyed differently.

That’s it. That’s the process. The final draft will be completed later, but I wanted to show one method for writing amazing dialogues!

EXAMPLE TWO, from Poggibonsi

Same system, with more steps for better dialogue. (Go with the method that serves your story best.)

 

FIRST

I take a situation and I have two characters speak the way I would probably speak, getting down the basic back and forth on the first pass. I write it fast, and sometimes the words are borderline jibberish.

SECOND

On the second pass (or later), I add in funny lines I thought up ANY TIME LATER. It’s okay, this is not a live performance. Think of a better line? Add it in later. We won’t tell. Then incorporate descriptions and beats (actions), fleshing things out and adding perspective, thoughts, etc.

THIRD

On the third pass, I tweak it so it reads smoothly and readers don’t get lost (a lot of the fleshing things out and adding perspective, thoughts, etc., actually happens here, too), and on the

FOURTH

pass I pare it down. You’ll see this one goes on too long because in this draft I’m still getting ideas in there and haven’t taken out repetition yet, but I thought it might be fun to see the process at work.

 

The first and second passes are the hardest,

so here’s one of my scenes laid out as a second pass and as a first pass. The first pass is harder to follow, but if you put them side by side (open two browser tabs) you’ll see what I did differently

And you’ll see why it needs a third and fourth pass!

This is pretty long for a blog post, but it’s a process that requires two drafts available simultaneously, so this was the best way to do it. It’s supposed to be fun.

Poggibonsi, my romantic comedy, first and second drafts

Poggi cover FINALHey, you’re using your real book?

Sure. I want you to see what I really do.

Chapter 19

(Samantha and Cole)

This is the second pass. It is followed by the first pass. The third one is in the book and that’s only because you can’t really read something three times and see differences anymore.

SECOND PASS – open in a second browser tab and review side by side to see the changes. (Scroll down to see FIRST PASS.)

And yes, it’s the same character – Sam – in both books. She was a lot of fun to write, so I used her again. But I could easily change the name and have two witty characaters, one for each book.

Samantha opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling. Not her ceiling, with a picture of Magnum PI taped to it, but a strange ceiling. She immediately wanted to vomit.

Oh my god, I’m a whore.

She was in a strange bed surrounded by strange walls and strange furniture.

And strange snoring came from the strange man sleeping next to her. She looked over at his naked back.

Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle a gasp.

Oh my god, I’m a complete whore. Please Jesus, let this not be who I think it hopefully isn’t. As she moved, the sheets felt cool against her skin, almost like she was… Her eyes widened. She lifted the sheet, peering down at her naked body.

She squeezed her eyes shut, mentally groaning. Oh my god, I’m such a fucking whore!

The snoring next to her continued. She looked over at the slumbering man’s naked back. Please, please, please, not him. Not him. Anybody but him. Her trembling finger reached out and touched him on the shoulder.

The snoring continued.

Another touch.

More snoring.

Sam gathered a sheet and wrapped it around herself, sliding out of bed and around to where she could get a better look. At the foot of the bed she steadied herself for what she might see. She took a deep breath and rounded the corner, eyes pressed shut, one hand holding the sheet, the other hand over her eyes, with just enough space between the fingers to peek through. She held her breath as she tiptoed closer

Please, please, please, please.

When she thought she was close enough, she stopped. Pulling her hand away from her eyes, she gazed down at…

Cole Zimmerman.

Her hand flew to her forehead. Oh noooooo. She reached out to the night table to steady herself. Oh my god I am such a damned fucking whore. She thought about running to the bathroom and throwing up. Then she thought about throwing up on him.

Bracing herself, she stretched out a foot nudged Cole with it. “Hey, wake up, asshole.”

“Hmm? What’s up?” He squinted against the bright morning light, smiling. “Oh. Good morning, Samantha.”

Sam frowned. “You raped me.”

He looked amused. “I what?”

“Don’t you smile at me, you rapist. You Cosby’d my ass.” She looked around. “You drugged me and got me up here to this… very nice apartment – and took advantage of me.”

He propped himself up on one elbow. “Slow down. I’m not quite awake yet.”

“I will not slow down.” She walked toward the door. “Where’s my phone? I’m calling the police. And where are my clothes?”

“Uh, well, you left a lot of them at the bar.”

She stopped in her tracks. “I did?”

“Yeah. You and tequila don’t mix.” He rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Or maybe you mix too well. It was quite a show.”

She put a hand to her forehead. Tequila. The whoremaker. She turned to face him. “You still raped me.”

He yawned, shaking his head. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”

Her jaw dropped. “Oh, what, I was begging for it? You piece of sh- ”

“Actually, you threw up. A lot. At the bar, and in my car on the way here. Before you passed out.”

Sam clutched the sheet to her chest. “You, you monster. You took advantage of me while I was passed out. That’s the lowest- ”

“Again, please.” He held up a hand. “I didn’t. Sorry to disappoint you. But you know, does it feel like you were violated? I’m told you ladies have a way of… ascertaining such things?

She thought for a moment, holding the sheet tight. Everything seemed pretty normal blow the waistline. “We didn’t sleep together?”

“Vomit is a real turn off for me. And there was a lot of it.” He nodded at her belly. “How’s your stomach feel?”

“It… feels sore.”

“And your lady parts? Decidedly not sore?”

She shifted on her feet. “Um, maybe.”

“Okay, well, that’s the best I can offer at the moment.” He reached out his arms and stretched.  “You may not like me, but we didn’t have- ”

“Why am I naked in your bed? And why are you naked?”

He raised his eyebrows, putting his hands on the sheet. Sam whipped around. “Don’t. I don’t want to see that.”

“You can turn around, I’m not naked.” He pulled off the sheet. Green workout shorts.

She curled up her lip. “Hah. Sexy.” They were, too. Zimmerman was in good shape. She admired his abs. What the fuck is wrong with me!

He scratched his lower back a little. “Yeah, decidedly not sexy, I think. Again, you and I just weren’t really in the cards after you started your geyser impersonation. You should really consider a good twelve step program.”

“Thanks, but where are my clothes?” She punched him on the arm. WowFirm. She refocused. “Why am I naked in your bed?”

He rubbed his chin. “One at a time. Let’s see. You threw up on your clothes, so I gave you some of mine. Yours are in the washer.”

“In your story I have clothes. Clearly, I now do not. Go on.”

“Then you threw up on mine.”

“And?”

“And I gave you some clothes to change into that I had in my car, a t-shirt and sweats. You puked on those on the way home.”

She squinted at him, both hands holding the sheet higher. “Whose home?”

He smiled. “Well, mine, because you were pretty unwilling to tell me you address. I’d have packed you into a cab except I wasn’t sure you’d make it home without dying of alcohol poisoning.” He chuckled. “And the cabbies were all sort of afraid of you by then. Besides, something bad could’ve happened.”

She closed her eyes and stomped her feet. “Something bad did happen! I came here. And Why. Am. I. Naked!?”

“Okay, let’s see. You puked on yourself in my car, and again on my couch – and I was running out of t-shirts. After a few rounds of that, I just gave up. I wrapped you in a sheet.”

“What a gentleman.”

“I also held your head so you didn’t drown in the toilet while you threw up. Do I get points for that?”

She looked down. “Oh. Okay. Well… thanks. I have a hard time believing you were so decent.”

“Me, too, but like I said, vomit’s a real turn off. I’m not saying I didn’t check you out. But the way you were heaving, you’re lucky I didn’t make you sleep in the shower. I was up half the night cleaning up the mess.”

“So we didn’t sleep together.”

“Oh, you slept. I cleaned.”

“Really?”

“Scout’s honor.”

“You didn’t…”

“I didn’t.”

“Wow, nothing?” She looked around. “Why not?”

He blinked a few times. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m good looking. Definitely out of your league. You didn’t have any… inclinations?”

He leaned back, pointing. “Weren’t you the lady who was calling me a rapist a moment ago? You look very similar to her. She was dressed in a sheet, too.”

“Why didn’t you hit on me? Are you married or something?”

“Not last time I checked.”

“Gay?”

“Let me think. Nope.”

“Then what? I mean, check out this rack.”

He craned his neck at her.

“Don’t you dare look!” She turned, pulling the sheet higher. “But there are some Grade-A prime breasts and thighs under this sheet.”

“I don’t disagree. I saw them last night.” He yawned again. “I’m not saying I didn’t cop a feel when you were passed out.”

“Aha, you molester!”

“I didn’t cop a feel, I’m just not saying I didn’t.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

He shrugged. “I have a reputation, too, you know.”

“Hmph.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Whatever.”

“I think you underestimate the suppressive power of projectile vomiting on the adult male sex drive.” He smiled. “Plus, I didn’t want to get fired or go to jail.”

She cocked her head at him. “Okay, but you didn’t hit on me at all?”

“Should I have?”

“Hell yes. I have a nice figure.”

“You have a great figure.”

“I’m pretty.”

“You’re a fucking knockout. Half the guys in the office have the hots for you.”

“Then why not?”

He sighed. “Okay, here’s the deal.” He patted the bed. Come, sit down.” Clutching the sheet under her neck, Sam carefully moved over and sat on the corner of the bed.

“I was taking you out to get you drunk so you’d spill the beans about Mike, right? So I could learn something useful to screw up his Italian project. If he goes down, I get the corner office. Partner. That’s it.” He smiled, placing his hands on his knees. “I couldn’t afford to let a booty call get in the way of that.”

He frowned. “I’m not a booty call.”

“Not for me, no. Or anybody else at the office.”

“What are you saying?”

“Everybody knows you have the hots for Mike.”

Her shoulders sagged. “Is it that obvious?”

“Yeah. Normally that wouldn’t even have slowed me down, but there was all that puke. And the fact that I wanted a partnership. I figure with the big office, I’ll have women lined up.”

Sam shook her head. “There’s the slime ball. I knew we’d get back to you eventually.”

“Oh, the slime ball was here all the time, Ms. Bond.”

“Excuse me?”

“You told me that you were like James Bond, walking into the trap on purpose just to bring out the bad guys.”

“I did?”

“You kept calling yourself ‘Bond, Jane Bond’ all night. Which was a porno in the 70’s, I think.”

“Yeah, I do remember that.”

He raised his eyebrows. “The porno or the spy thing?”

“The spy thing. And I started doing… oh my god, did I dance on the bar?”

“You did.” He nodded. “Like I said, it was quite a show.”

“But there isn’t a bar like that at…”

“At Marnie’s.”

“Right.”

“Yeah, you got us booted out of there after the first few shots kicked in.” He scratched at his head. “The place down the street was a little more accommodating to whooping it up. You danced on their bar.”

“It had a buffalo head on the wall.”

“A moose. It’s called Moosehead. The bar.”

“A moose. That’s right.” She stared at the wall, recalling the scene. “Then there was a fight, right?”

“Well, you and the shot girl got into it; that was a highlight. But then you dared her to a shot contest.”

“Oh, boy.”

“And she was apparently drinking water, because you lost. Quickly. Then you lost it altogether. That’s when the real fun started. You did a striptease, of sorts. But then – the geyser. For future reference, never drink on an empty stomach.”

“Okay, okay, so I think I have it all now. It’s coming back to me.” She buried her face in her hands.

“I’m surprised you’re not hung over, but I guess you got rid of it all.” He patted her on the back. “My car and carpet have never been so unhappy. And my couch. And my bathroom.”

“And you?”

“And I spent most of the night cleaning and running to get you when you started making cat-hairball noises. You went dry about 4am. That’s when I went to bed.”

She looked toward the living rom. “You could have slept on the couch.”

“Not after you redecorated it. And the floor’s not my style. Not in my own apartment.”

“I guess I should say thank you.”

“Not entirely. I mean, I didn’t take nude pictures of you to post at the office, but you gave up the goods on your man in Italy. He’s toast, with or without pictures from last night.”

She sat up. “What did I say?”

“Sam, you said everything.” He chuckled, rubbing his hands together. “And as it turns out, I didn’t have to do a thing. He’s going to fuck it all up by himself.”

“He- I- ”

He put his finger to her lips. “There’s nothing you can do, honey.”

She swatted his hand away. “Don’t call me that.”

“After the night we had together? Come on. And I didn’t post any pictures, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some. Like I said, you put on quite a show.”

“Ugh. You’re a real- ”

“Gentleman. And you’re a lady. And that’s how it stays. As long as you play ball.”

She looked around. “I’ll, I’ll call Mike myself and tell him everything.”

“Tell him what?” He shrugged. “That his wife says their marriage is rocky and getting rockier by the minute? I think he already knows. That Kenny messed up the surveys? He knows that, too. He’s flying blind because his liaison is laying half dead in an Italian hospital and he’s been treading water for two weeks. So far, what does he need to know? He knows all that.”

“He needs to know I’m here for him. That I can help.”

“Which is why you’re going to get the flu for a week and not go in to the office.”

“I’m not sick.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you should check with HR and see about the email rules again, Jane Bond.” He smiled. “Maybe you’re feeling under the weather and just didn’t realize it. You don’t take any calls from him or anybody else for a few days. Nobody’ll be the wiser.”

She scowled at him. “You like being a shitheel, don’t you.”

He took a deep breath, stretching. “I’d prefer to work hard and play by the rules, but look where that got you and you boss. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be getting undressed and getting a shower. Unless you’d like to join me.”

“Not a chance.”

“No, I didn’t think so.” He stood up and slid out of his sweats no the way to the bathroom.

Nice butt, too. Damn.

“Help yourself to the washer. That’s where your clothes are.” He pointed to the dresser without stopping. “And feel free to take anything of mine. Nobody likes a walk of shame. Except me, of course.”

He laughed as he shut the bathroom door. A few seconds later, the shower started.

Sam looked around. Grabbing a t-shirt and shorts from the dresser, she hurried to put them on and made her way to the washer for her wet clothes.

On the kitchen counter next to Zimmerman’s wallet and cell phone rested her purse. She grabbed it, slinging it over her shoulder as she headed for the front door. There was singing coming from the closed bathroom door behind her.

She placed her hand on the door knob.

Turning, she strode back to the kitchen. She opened his cell phone and scanned through the picture file. She set down her things. There were no nude shots of her, but there were quite a few where she was obviously drunk, and some of her dancing on the bar.

One after another, they all got deleted.

With his phone in her hand, she walked back to the bathroom and opened the door. “Is that offer to join you in the shower still good?”

It caught him by surprise, but he recovered quickly. “Have a change of heart?”

She yanked the shower curtain back, ready with her one-liner. Gee, that looks just like a penis only smaller.

She blinked. He was hung like a bear. God damn.

He smiled. “See anything you like?”

She managed to pull her eyes up to meet his. “Just this.” She held up his phone.

“Snap away. I have nothing to hide.”

“That’s the problem. You think you don’t.” She opened the toilet lid. “But you should.”

“Wait, that’s the new nine series! I just got that!”

She tossed the phone into the toilet. “Oops.”

“Fuck!”

“Is that an offer? No, thank you. A girl has to have some standards. But since you put me in hot water, how about some for yourself?” She reached over and flushed the toilet.

“No, no, no – Ow!”

Sam smiled as she turned. “Bond. Jane Bond, asshole.” She walked out the front door and down to the lobby, hailing the first cab that drove past the high rise.

The good feeling lasted halfway to her apartment, when she picked up her cell phone and called the office.

“Hello, Fran? It’s Samantha. I’m sorry, sweetie, I’m coming down with the flu. I’ll be missing a few days, maybe the whole week.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. Can I do anything?”

Sam sniffled, blinking back a tear. “No, I’m not sure anybody can help me right now.”

She hung up and swallowed hard, staring out the window the rest of the way home.

Same Scene, FIRST PASS – open in a second browser tab and review side by side to see the changes

Oh my god, I’m a whore.

Sam opened her eyes and stared up at a strange ceiling. She immediately wanted to vomit.

She was in a strange bed surrounded by strange walls and strange furniture.

And strange snoring came from the strange man sleeping next to her. She looked over at his naked back.

Oh my god, I’m a complete whore. Please Jesus, let this not be who I think it hopefully isn’t. She lifted the sheet, peering down at her naked body.

Oh my god, I’m such a fucking whore!

The snoring next to her continued. She looked over at the slumbering man’s naked back. Please, please, please, not him. Not him. Anybody but him. Her trembling finger reached out and touched him on the shoulder.

The snoring continued.

Another touch.

More snoring.

Sam gathered a sheet and wrapped it around herself, sliding out of bed and around to where she could get a better look.

Please, please, please, please.

When she thought she was close enough, she stopped. Pulling her hand away from her eyes, she gazed down at…

Cole Zimmerman.

Oh my god I am such a damned fucking whore. She thought about running to the bathroom and throwing up. Then she thought about throwing up on him.

Bracing herself, she stretched out a foot kicked Cole with it.

“Hmm? What’s up?”

“You raped me.”

“I what?”

“Don’t you smile at me, you rapist. You Cosby’d my ass. You drugged me and got me up here to this… very nice swanky apartment – and took advantage of me.”

“Slow down. I’m not quite awake yet.”

“I will not slow down.” She walked toward the door. “Where’s my phone? I’m calling the police. And where are my clothes?”

“You left a lot of them at the bar. You and tequila don’t mix.”

“You still raped me.”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”

“Oh, what, I was begging for it? You piece of sh- ”

“Actually, you threw up. A lot. At the bar, and in my car on the way here. Before you passed out.”

Sam clutched the sheet to her chest. “You, you monster. You took advantage of me while I was passed out. That’s the lowest- ”

“I didn’t. Does it feel like you were violated? I’m told you ladies have a way of ‘knowing.’ ”

(Everything seemed okay below the waistline.) “We didn’t sleep together?”

“Vomit is a real turn off for me. And there was a lot of it. How’s your stomach feel?”

“It… feels sore.”

“And your lady parts? Decidedly not sore?”

She shifts uncomfortably on her feet. “Um, maybe.”

“Okay, well, that’s the best I can offer at the moment.”

“Why am I naked in your bed? Where are my clothes?”

You threw up on your clothes, so I gave you some of mine. Yours are in the washer.”

“Go on.”

“Then you threw up on mine.”

“And?”

“And I gave you some clothes to change into that I had in my car, a t-shirt and sweats. You puked on those on the way home.”

Whose home?”

“Well, mine, because you were pretty unwilling to tell me you address. I’d have packed you into a cab except I wasn’t sure you’d make it home without dying of alcohol poisoning. And the cabbies were all sort of afraid of you by then. Besides, something bad could’ve happened.”

She closed her eyes and stomped her feet. “Something bad did happen! I came here. And Why. Am. I. Naked!?”

“Okay, let’s see. You puked on yourself in my car, and again on my couch – and I was running out of t-shirts. After a few rounds of that, I just gave up. I wrapped you in a sheet.”

“So we didn’t sleep together.”

“Nope. Scout’s honor.”

“Wow, nothing?” She looks around. “Why not?”

He blinks a few times. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m good looking. Definitely out of your league. You didn’t have any… inclinations?”

“Weren’t you the lady who was calling me a rapist a moment ago? You look very similar to her. She was dressed in a sheet, too.”

“Why didn’t you hit on me? Are you married or something?”

“Not last time I checked.”

“Gay?”

“Let me think. Nope.”

“Then what? I mean, check out this rack.”

He craned his neck at her.

“Don’t you dare look!” She turned, pulls the sheet higher.

“I don’t disagree. I think you underestimate the suppressive power of projectile vomiting on the adult male sex drive. Plus, I didn’t want to get fired or go to jail.”

Sam: “Okay, but you didn’t hit on me at all?”

“Should I have?”

Sam: “Hell yes. I have a nice figure.”

“You have a great figure.”

“Then why not?”

(He explains, omitted.) “Anyway, you told me that you were like James Bond, walking into the trap on purpose just to bring out the bad guys.”

“I did?”

“You kept calling yourself ‘Bond, Jane Bond’ all night. Which was a porno in the 70’s, I think.”

Sam: “Yeah, I do remember that.”

“The porno or the spy thing?”

“The spy thing. And I started doing… oh my god, did I dance on the bar?”

“You did.” He nodded. “Like I said, it was quite a show.”

“It had a buffalo head on the wall.”

“A moose. It’s called Moosehead. The bar.”

“A moose. That’s right.” She stared at the wall, recalling the scene. “Then there was a fight, right?”

“Well, you and the shot girl got into it; that was a highlight. But then you dared her to a shot contest.”

“Oh, boy.”

“And she was apparently drinking water, because you lost. Quickly. Then you lost it altogether. That’s when the real fun started. You did a striptease, of sorts. But then – the geyser. For future reference, never drink on an empty stomach.”

“Okay, okay, so I think I have it all now. It’s coming back to me.”

“I’m surprised you’re not hung over, but I guess you got rid of it all.” He patted her on the back. “My car and carpet have never been so unhappy. And my couch. And my bathroom.”

“And you?”

“And I spent most of the night cleaning and running to get you when you started making cat-hairball noises. You went dry about 4am. That’s when I went to bed.”

She looked toward the living rom. “You could have slept on the couch.”

“Not after you redecorated it. And the floor’s not my style. Not in my own apartment.”

“I guess I should say thank you.”

“Not entirely. I mean, I didn’t take nude pictures of you to post at the office, but you gave up the goods on your man in Italy. He’s toast, with or without pictures from last night.”

She sat up. “What did I say?”

“Sam, you said everything.” He chuckled, rubbing his hands together. “And as it turns out, I didn’t have to do a thing. He’s going to fuck it all up by himself.”

“He- I- ”

He put his finger to her lips. “There’s nothing you can do, honey.”

She swatted his hand away. “Don’t call me that.”

“After the night we had together?”

“Ugh. You’re a real- ”

“Gentleman. And you’re a lady. And that’s how it stays. As long as you play ball.”

(He tries to blackmail her, then he gets in the shower while she prepares to leave. Much of this got a second pass already but needs to rest so I can approach it with fresh eyes. It isn’t ready yet.)

On the kitchen counter next to Zimmerman’s wallet and cell phone rested her purse. She grabbed it, slinging it over her shoulder as she headed for the front door. There was singing coming from the closed bathroom door behind her.

She placed her hand on the door knob.

Turning, she strode back to the kitchen. She opened his cell phone and scanned through the picture file. She set down her things. There were no nude shots of her, but there were quite a few where she was obviously drunk, and some of her dancing on the bar.

One after another, they all got deleted.

With his phone in her hand, she walked back to the bathroom and opened the door. “Is that offer to join you in the shower still good?”

It caught him by surprise, but he recovered quickly. “Have a change of heart?”

She yanked the shower curtain back, ready with her one-liner. Gee, that looks just like a penis only smaller.

She blinked. He was hung like a bear. God damn.

He smiled. “See anything you like?”

She managed to pull her eyes up to meet his. “Just this.” She held up his phone.

“Snap away. I have nothing to hide.”

“That’s the problem. You think you don’t.” She opened the toilet lid. “But you should.”

“Wait, that’s the new nine series! I just got that!”

She tossed the phone into the toilet. “Oops.”

“Fuck!”

“Is that an offer? No, thank you. A girl has to have some standards. But since you put me in hot water, how about some for yourself?” She reached over and flushed the toilet.

“No, no, no – Ow!”

Sam smiled as she turned. “Bond. Jane Bond, asshole.” She walked out the front door and down to the lobby, hailing the first cab that drove past the high rise.

The changes are obvious when placed side by side (and so is the need for another pass at it) but hopefully you can see some of the process.

Later I did another draft and basically finalized it for the book. But it’s just polishing at that point; the dialogue steps are here.

Feel free to ask for me to address areas where you have problems!

Dialogues do NOT need to be difficult.

Learn the method and use it in your stories.

You may not have such talkative characters but your story will benefit from the process.

 

8 thoughts on “How To Write Good – no, AMAZING – Dialogue

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