Jacquelin Thomas’s broad range of writing work has garnered plenty of well-deserved attention. She’s the winner of several awards, including two EMMA awards. Here, she shares her tips for writing captivating dialogue.
By Rebecca Fields
“Unless I get a really clear visual, my first drafts are always filled with dialogue—no rooms, furniture, or anything. It’s the way my stories come to me,” Jacquelin Thomas says. “I hear the characters talking. Writing dialogue isn’t just about dramatic pauses. It should flesh out your characters, move the story forward, and pull in your readers from the beginning to the end.
I often compare dialogue to dancing. A character speaks, another replies. There are times when one character leads, at other times; the other character may lead. The characters’s conversations are either in rhythm (in agreement) or they can be out of sync (disagreement).”
Thomas lists five sure-fire tips for writing realistic dialogue:
- Dialogue should be realistic but try to delete filler words that may bore your reader. Instead, let your character’s personalities, fears and motivations come through their words. Cut conversations that are irrelevant and don’t move your story forward.
- Use dialogue to give vital information that will move your story forward.
- Characters shouldn’t always say exactly what they are feeling. Putting a character’s words at odds with his or her body language is an effective way to show chinks in that character’s armor.
- All characters should sound different. They should each have their own rhythm in the way they talk and have their own vocabulary. I always write a biography for each of my main characters which reveals a lot about them, including his or her speaking style. This should come across to the reader as well.
- If you don’t already, get into the habit of listening to how people talk. I do this even when watching a TV show or a movie. It’s not so much *what* they are saying, but *how* they say it.
Thomas says she usually wait until she’s on her final draft before cleaning up her dialogue.
“There are times during the editing and revision process that a character’s dialogue may change—I make those changes, but it isn’t until I’m satisfied with characterization, storyline, etc. that I go back and clean up my dialogue,” she says.
“This process of starting and ending with dialogue works best for me.”