Dialogue versus Talking Heads – Part 1

by Karen McCullough

Karen_McCullough_2015_200How your characters communicate can make or break a story. Even if the plot is strong enough to carry it, good dialogue can increase your reader’s enjoyment of a story, while bad dialogue can bounce her out of it.

Thought experiment: Consider the interactions between Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie trilogy, then compare those with the interactions between Anakin and Padme in the prequel series. Which pair is more memorable?

Does anyone not remember the scene where Han’s about to be frozen in Carbonite and Leia tells him she loves him? And his response is, “I know.” It’s not just the words, although they are so exactly right for the character, but the tone as well…confident, nervy, smug, but with just a hint of gratitude. It’s so perfectly Han Solo.

Do you remember the words when Padme first tells Anakin she loves him? Neither do I. In fact, the only thing I remember about that entire scene in the movie is how uncomfortable I felt listening to the awful dialogue.

So how do you get dialogue that sparkles? It takes work and practice and knowing your characters, and listening to how people speak. And then you have to apply all those to your own work. Writing dialogue is a huge topic that would take much more space than I have here, but I want to give you a few hints for refining it in the editing process.

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you’re editing your own dialogue:

  1. Is it boring?
  1. Is it wordy?
  1. Is it right for your character?
  1. Is it right for the situation?
  1. Is it just words?

Karen McCullough is the author of a dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres as well. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Daphne, Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, six grandchildren (plus one on the way) and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.

Website: http://www.kmccullough.com

Blog: http://www.kmccullough/kblog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenMcCulloughAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kgmccullough

Watch for Part 2


I'm a novelist, short story writer, and I currently serve as CEO for L. Cooper Press, a service for writers. Thomson-Gale bought one of my novels, With Full Malice, for their 5 Star Mystery line, then Harlequin WorldWide Mysteries bought the mass market paperback rights. I lead a novel critique group in Redlands, CA, so if you're in the area and writing a novel, join us: http://www.meetup.com/SoCal-Novel-Writers-Workshop/ When I can't attend, Amy Fletcher leads the group. You can always contact me through my websites: www.brendahill.com www.lcooperpress.com

Posted in Craft of Writing, Guest Blogger, My Blog
8 comments on “Dialogue versus Talking Heads – Part 1
  1. pamelasthibodeaux says:

    Great advice Karen!
    Good luck and God’s blessings

  2. Thanks, Pam! And thank you, Brenda, for inviting me to post in your blog!

  3. Your questions are entirely on target. Just shows how important it is to read our words out loud to see if the dialogue sounds right. And, of course, the need to rewrite and edit is always necessary.

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