Writing Talk: Basics of Dialogue

Wonder Woman Issue 203


Last week in the Writing F&SF Stories class, we talked about dialogue. This is one of the basic tools for a writer.

The key points were:

  1. You are creating a Platonic ideal of speech. If you wrote the way people actually speak in day to day experience, it would be full of uhs, excess words (particularly conjuctions), and abrupt shifts in grammar. Such a conglomeration of words would prove off-putting on the page.
  2. People’s language reflects so much about them, both external and internal. Their education, their biases, their social class, their gender, their obsessions, the metaphors of their inner landscape…the list goes on and on.
  3. Eavesdropping is an imperative for writers. Be shameless in your listening and faithful in your notations — but in your writing use it freely, altering and editing it in order to achieve point #1..
  4. Punctuate it correctly. Writers who don’t know the ins and outs of punctuation rusk putting most editors off. Perhaps you are one of those who argue that creating marvelous things with language requires using it in new and interesting and sometimes ungrammatical ways. To which, I would say that sure, do that, but do it in a way that people will understand. Convince the editor that (one) you know what you’re doing with the punctuation by being both consistent and comprehensible and (two) that you’re using it for (good) purpose and we’ll follow you. But to do this you MUST know what rules you’re violating, so no matter what, you’re going to have to buckle down and learn the basics of punctuation.

Enjoy this writing advice and want more content like it? Check out the classes Cat gives via the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers both on-demand and live online writing classes for fantasy and science fiction writers from Cat and other authors, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and other talents! All classes include three free slots.

Prefer to opt for weekly interaction, advice, opportunities to ask questions, and access to the Chez Rambo Discord community and critique group? Check out Cat’s Patreon. Or sample her writing here.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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