Writing Dialogue

Allison McKowen recently asked this question below one of the blog pieces at my web site after commenting that she admired the dialogue I wrote in THE SECRET MISTRESS: “I have, several times, started to write a story, but get bogged down when it comes to the dialog. How did you learn to write dialog, if such a talent can be condensed into a reasonably succinct answer?”

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I must say that writing dialogue is my favorite part of writing. Fortunately, I think most readers like a lot of dialogue in the books they read. I know I do. So I try to include as much as possible in the books I write. I learned how to do it, I suppose, by doing it! It is only recently that I realized many writers actually study and learn the various arts of writing. Maybe I am just one of the lucky (or cheeky) ones. I have always just written and have never even thought of looking at any how-to books or attending any how-to workshops.

I like to set up a scene before I begin dialogue in such a way that the two characters involved have something to say to each other. Perhaps they are gearing up to argue about something, or perhaps one of them needs to unburden him/herself to the other. Perhaps they have something important to discuss or decide. Or perhaps they have been thrown together and really don’t know what to say to each other but cannot avoid saying something. Whatever the situation happens to be, when my characters start talking, I let them go to it. Much of the time it feels as though I am not directing the conversation at all, but merely listening in and writing it down as quickly as I can. Often they surprise me–in fact, they almost always do. I learn about my characters when they are speaking and interacting. My plot is often determined and carried forward by what they say.

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One thing I have learned about dialogue as I have gone along  is that as the two characters speak, the reader needs to be able to picture the scene as well as to listen to what is being said. I am careful to include details about their facial expressions and body language, as well as the thoughts and emotional responses of the character from whose point of view that particular scene is being told (my scenes are almost always written from the point of view of either the hero or the heroine). I will include a few details about their surroundings–a dying fire, rain lashing a window, one of them getting up to pour a fresh drink, etc. And another thing I have learned from the books I read: I find it hugely annoying if I can’t keep track of who is speaking and have to keep going back to work it out. Even if it may sometimes seem unnecessary always to have the “he said,” “she said,” labels, I still think it preferable to not having them at all.

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I would be interested to read your comments on dialogue. To two randomly chosen people who leave a comment below before the end of Saturday, February 28, I will send a signed copy of LONGING, my March republication.

183 thoughts on “Writing Dialogue

  1. I am simply in awe of those who can write wonderful stories, and love it when the dialogues flow with what I imagine the characters are like…it gives them personality! Thanks, and I’d love to have an autographed copy of your new book too!!,

    • I agree with what you said about seeing the people as you “listen to their conversation” I almost feel like I’m watching a movie as they speak. Even as you say he said, she said. It is necessary sometimes to keep a longer conversation straight. BTW, love the picture at the top. I can totally relate to finding it is morning after being up reading all night long. Night well spent.

    • Cara Mary Balogh,
      ho appena terminato di leggere “Longing”, un romanzo che parla all’anima di chi ha visto e vissuto in Galles per una parte della sua vita. Mi sono emozionata leggendo della forza con cui Sian affronta la vita. Il suo cuore esposto, fragile e sincero.
      E’ lo stesso animo che ho visto in Jane, la mia “mamma gallese”, quando la incontrai 25 anni fa a Cardiff. Pronunciava parole impossibili che il mio “standard English” non riusciva a capire. Era una buona consolazione il fatto che neppure Alan, il mio “papà gallese” la capisse molto. Ho impiegato 2 giorni a ricordare la via in cui abitavo: Llanedern.
      Ho molto apprezzato gli elementi del racconto che tu (mi permetto di darti del tu) sai unire nelle descrizioni dei tuoi personaggi.. che diventano anche un po’ nostri.. miei.
      Sian è un esempio di come, anche se non tutto va come vorresti, la vita può riservare sorprese piacevoli. Mi piace che riesca a ritagliare uno spazio per la sua felicità quando le cose hanno cambiato binario. Ho molto da imparare da lei.
      Vivo in un’area dell’Italia dove la fortuna mi permette di vedere una città medievale meravigliosa, con affreschi e monumenti storici. Nella periferia, valli verdeggianti e aree ancora poco esplorate. Molto simile al Cwmbran che descrivi.
      Grazie per riempire i rari spazi liberi delle mie giornate con le tue parole che fatico a smettere di leggere.
      Grazie per la tua positività e per ricordarci che ci si può ancora fidare delle persone.
      Grazie, Nicoletta

  2. Throughly enjoyed the info on writing dialogue. To have the naturally talent you do must be amazing! I have always found your books entertaining and delightful! You are so very correct about it be frustrating when you can not keep up with who is say what during the dialogue. Thank you for the wonderful information and for all of the great stories you give us!

  3. I really liked this entry. I enjoy dialogue as well and I really prefer it to the descriptions. Few descriptions and lots of dialogue is the better in my opinion.

  4. Interesting post! I envy your ease with dialogs! It is what I struggle the most with. Studying the art might help, but in the end I believe that reading and reading is the key to better writing. Thank you for this new update!

  5. I love reading dialogue, but when I’ve tried writing it and just can’t. My mind wanders and I tend to get off topic so I leave it up to the experts. That’s why I love reading so much. It let’s me eavesdrop on someones conversations and thoughts. The more descriptive the dialogue the better, because it enriches my imagination even more and helps bring the book to life. I love it when tone is described. When dialogue is well written is when I have a difficult time putting my book down and it usually goes in my pile of re-reads.

  6. I appreciate where you are coming from as the writer to keep dialogue moving as well as providing description that includes all five senses touch (solid, airy, metallic), taste (sweet, strawberry), smell (musky, hyacinth, woodsy), hear (beating, rustle of her skirts), sight (twinkling, deep blue). I don’t always need “He” and “She” discriptors if I can tell the dialogue from the words said. Throw in a third person sometimes makes following dialogue harder so adding speaker descripters is needed.

  7. Good dialogue seems to flow without the reader being aware of “he said” or “she said,” but still understanding who is talking. I enjoy the dialogue in your books very much because it helps me get to know the characters even better.

  8. You make it seem so simple and I am sure it is not. This dialogue tip goes a long way to explain why I find your books so enjoyable.

  9. Hi. We love your books! I agree with you on the annoyance factor of having to reread passages in order to figure out who was speaking! If I have that problem in more than one or two of that particular author’s books, I tend not to buy their books again. I hope I win an autographed copy of your book!

  10. I personally look for two aspects, the dialogue (and I include inner monologue in this as we speak to ourselves) and the detail in the descriptions. I find your dialogue helps me to graps the character’s character and I appreciate it.

  11. Sometimes my characters’ dialog can take them in a far different direction than I initially envisioned. Of course dialog moves the story/script along as prose does not.

  12. I would love a signed copy, however most important to me is just that you keep writing.
    Thank you so much for your wonderful books!.Finding one is like a Christmas gift each time.They are always such a joy and treat.I can’t wait to start reading and I loathe coming to the end…until the next one!

  13. I write short stories (for myself) but am glad you mentioned the phenomenon of feeling as if the characters are actually writing the dialog. I will re-read a section and find myself bemused–where did that dialog come from? I have a fan of yours for so long and it is so nice to know I am not crazy. That way anyway
    Thank you.

  14. I love reading your books and the dialogue in them is definitely something that stands out over other books. Thank you for writing books that keep the readers coming back for more.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your insights on writing, especially dialogue. I have a story in my heart that I am trying to put to paper but the dialogue scares me. I will try your suggestions to break through the fear.

  16. You are right, I love dialogue. I want to know what people think and whether they are going to be honest and tell the truth. I also want to know who is talking. That means I want to know if it is Mary or John saying ” Get Lost.” or “I love you.” I think maybe that is one of the reasons you are one of my favorite authors, I like character driven books. And that means the characters have to speak to me. Thanks for what you do.

  17. I absolutely love to hear the characters. Your characters personalities shine through their speech, but I also love the unspoken. A touch or a look can speak a thousand words. Thank you for being such a great inspiration. I hope to one day be a great writer and appreciate the fact that there are such wonderful women writers like you!

  18. For your characters, the dialogue just flows. It feels natural, and it’s so easy to “see” it in my mind. I never have difficulty determining who is speaking.

  19. Longing for a good new book to start March reading out in style! Wish the Internet and blogs had started years ago, being able to communicate with authors and other readers seems to make this more personal. Thanks for giving us a short escape, even only for a few pages….

  20. “Longing” is one of my favorite books, my favorite of yours. My other email address is mhiraeth@aol.com. I added “m” to “hiraeth” simply because hiraeth was already taken as a user name. I can very much identify with the sentiment of the word “hiraeth.”

  21. Thank you for sharing your dialogue knowledge. It seems to me that the art of conversation is lost among the younger generation due to the use of electronic devices. I particularly dislike the fact that some people can only use shorthand, etc. I SOOOO appreciate a great writer such as yourself who use dialogue to augment the scenery and also show the character’s relationship. I will always be a fan!

  22. I am an artist and I have a good imagination but to put it down in words is something I cannot do. I admire anyone who can conjure up a picture with words.

  23. Love the Truman Capote quote! Thank you for your very helpful remarks concerning creating dialogue. Your comment about writers not being clear about which character is speaking led to a pet peeve of mine, and that is writers who give their characters similar names. This is confusing to the reader. To take a random example (and not the best to illustrate my point), in HAZARD, Jo Beverly used the following last names: Middethorpe; Throgmorton; and Normanton. It is as if she mixed and matched the various sylables of these names and altered them slightly in the process.

  24. I find it annoying also when I have to figure out who is talking. I like the “he said” “she said”. I love your books and would be honored to receive an autographed copy. Thank you.

  25. I love reading dialogue.

    And I do appreciate the he/she said added in to make it clear which character is speaking. I’ve had some books where they leave it out, and just jump paragraphs; but that can make it confusing to distinguish if it’s a change in which character is speaking, or if it’s the same one, just starting a new paragraph.

  26. Dialog is the best part of any story. The characters really shine through the dialog and it could really make or break the story.

  27. I love well written dialogue. As others have stated it does sometimes get confusing on who is speaking. I love all your books. Thank you for this opportunity.

  28. You are definitely extremely talented when it comes to writing dialogue! One of my absolute favorites: A Summer to Remember!!! Looking forward to your latest!!!!

  29. You make writing dialogue sound easy; it’s not, of course. However, your remarks explain why the dialigug you write seems so natural.

  30. Thank you for sharing tips on writing dialog. It has always escaped me when I have tried my hand at writing. Your books are all infinitely better (and I enjoy reading them) because you do indeed listen to your characters. I don’t think that realization had really reached me before, but the conversation really is due to the fully-realized characters you have created. They feel like real people and they talk like real people as well. I like the idea of listening to them and trying to write down what they are saying.

  31. Gosh, I couldn’t agree more with your reasoning re: the he said and she said. One of the really annoying things about some kindle books is the bad spacing and punctuation. I too, really dislike trying to figure out who is speaking. I have read everyone of your books, thanks!
    Sandy Hughes

  32. I agree with you that I like a lot of dialogue in the books I read. It does, however, need to be well written. I’d rather read “he said, she said” than get confused about who is speaking. A pet peeve is when language is used that’s not appropriate to the time period!

  33. I believe that thorough character development helps to shape the dialogue. By the time you get inside the character to see that she always fiddles with the stitching on her dress when she is nervous or he raises his eyebrow when he discovers the effect he has on women, the inner secrets and motivations come through in a passionate and consuming exchange of dialogue. They way you define your characters has made me a huge fan! I find myself wondering if your characters are feeling the same things I feel while reading.

  34. Hi Mary! As I read the above response, I’m amazed how the characters and personalities are created. I had no idea! I have trouble putting the right words on a greeting card!! Thank you for sharing your talent with us. I look forward to meeting every one of your characters.

  35. I enjoy the dialogues you create in your books and enjoyed reading how you do it. I definitely am not a writer nor do I enjoy writing and dialogue is one of the many facets of writing that I struggled with in my required writing courses throughout my school years. To me it always felt still and like someone was reading unimaginative lines from a cue card but with your dialogues it is so easy to imagine the characters having the conversation, the setting, the emotions, the feelings behind the words. What a wonderful gift you have!!!

  36. I think I enjoy modern day dialog better than in Jane Austin books as they use about 20 words to say what a modern writer can say in 5. Re-read Georgette Heyers “The Relunctant Widow” and she hit the happy medium between.

  37. I personally like a book with alot of dialogue, however most of the time I can’t quite follow who is saying what. I have to reread and understand, that is why I like reading the character’s thoughts after the dialogue so that I’ll understand it more. Most of the time in the books I read I find it a bit unpleasing to read too much character thoughts and that for me makes the dialogue a balancing point in the book. You can never have too much right?? 🙂 I like your books for that aspect I always find the balance I need 🙂 ! please write moree and I am oh so waiting for the next survivor’s book and LONGING for this new book tooo ahahah (pun intended)

  38. When an author is able to portray truly different voices through dialogue, that is a joy to read. When every speaker sounds the same, it takes away from the authenticity of the scene.

  39. Love this! I also get lost when characters names and “he said/she said” isn’t given enough in a dialogue. I’ve never gotten lost in your dialogue, unless so consumed I have forgotten where I am counts

  40. Thank you,Thank you! I have been working on edits on my MS. The way you set up your scenes helped me really understand how to work dialogue. I love reading your books, and hearing you talk about your process.

  41. I have enjoyed every one of your books that I have read, which numbers 40 and still counting. Always looking forward to the next book that is released whether it is an old one or a new one. Every one is precious to me. Keep up the writing.

  42. I agree that it is extremely frustrating when you cannot follow who is talking during an extended dialogue. I hate having to flip back a page to figure out who was last speaking. I also love internal dialogues, especially when the person is participating in a conversation so you’re getting both types of dialogue at the same time. Even better is when the person holding the internal dialogue is also being humorous or snarky. Those types of scenes are almost always guaranteed to make me laugh out loud.

  43. Many times I find myself completely enthralled with your books. Now that I’ve found your blog spot, I might just have to catch up on some more of you’re ideas and insight on here!

  44. I’ve been working on a novel, and I have to say that dialogue does get easier with practice, which means I need to go back and edit the beginning so it doesn’t sound quite so stilted. I still have trouble when my characters argue, however, possibly because I avoid conflict and my husband and I never argued (we got mad at each other, but we never argued).

  45. I’m really glad that you addressed the issue of understanding who is speaking in a book. Sometimes, even though I am an intelligent reader, I find it really difficult to tell who is speaking. Theoretically, with the right spacing it should be somewhat easy to figure out. However, there have been times where I’ve read, and thought to myself, “Wait, what? Who’s talking now? Based on the spacing it should be Person A, but based on what they’re saying it seems like it’s Person B.” I really hate how it pulls you out of the story. Like you, I prefer that authors keep it clear!

    I never have that problem with your writing, it’s always so clear! I love the dialogue in your books, it’s so well done! 🙂

  46. For myself…dialogue has to capture as if you were in the scene. Feel the emotion.. to hear the crying, the joy, anger, or love in their words. When the characters engage (which I agree must be able to keep up with who is speaking at the time) making it real and making me want to be a fly on the wall even though I’m already apart of it.

  47. Yes, I have found that when characters become alive to you, and the scene is prepared well, dialogue just flows. Those scenes rarely need to be re-written, because they just feel right and any changes feel artificial.

  48. Your characters are so well drawn. I am ableto fall into the story! Interesting to hear that that is how they unfold for you as well!

  49. I adore all your books, and I love how your writing seems to pull me in. I never have to retrace my reading to figure out who is speaking.

  50. When I read THE ARRANGEMENT, I fell in love with the characters. Vincent and Sophie had such heart warming conversations even before they fell in love <3.

  51. I love the humor you put in some of your dialogues. You are very witty, Mary, and it comes through in your books. I often laugh out loud while reading the back and forth between two characters….i.e., Wulfric and Christine in Simply Dangerous. There are many books that you do it in…The Famous Heroine, The Secret Affair to name a few more…hilarious!!!

  52. My sister has been a fan of your writing for years, and was the person who influenced me to start reading your books. I am so glad that she did! I become so immersed in the characters, and how you convey them and their unique characteristics, that it is hard to put the book down until the very last page. I am a fan for life, and a voracious reader, because you make it so easy! Thanks for sharing your gift with the world.

  53. I love the book shelf on the home page. reminds me of my “library” before we sold our house i had a 6’x8′ walk in closet i had my husband build book shelves on three sides floor to celling. I had to double stacked the books. i really miss my books i hope to get them out of storage and build my library again.
    I love reading Mary Balough books, I’m torn to choose which series I love more
    the Bedwyn saga or the Huxtable series of the Simply series.

    • A reader sent me that picture of her own book shelf, Rita. I asked her permission to use it on my web site and on my Facebook page.

  54. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I do mostly technical writing–writing dialogue seems mysterious and magical.

    I’m a longtime fan. Looking forward to the new story.

  55. The best help I had for writing dialog is simply speaking it out, saying it aloud. I will act the conversation out – usually when nobody is around. I heard as a kid that Charles Dickens did it that way, and it works for me.

  56. I have all your books. Some I have signed from 26 years ago when I moved out of Kipling.
    I really enjoy reading all your book.

  57. Regarding my earlier post about similar characters’ names, a better example is from Claimed By a Rogue, the villian’s first name is Astride, aka Arthur, and the heroine’s brother’s first name is Anthony.

  58. I enjoy the dialog in stories, both inner and outer. I agree 100% that I would rather see too many “he saids” and “she saids” than be confused.

  59. I have been a huge fan of Robert Parker and his character Spenser. His books are nearly all dialog and you ALWAYS know whether it is Spenser or Hawk or whoever talking. You are excellent at this and your people have voices of their own. Hugo for instance in the survivors has such trouble articulating what he feels we always know his voice. When you have Wulfric growl at Christine you show us with a sound a whole bigger picture of the man.
    I got out my elderly copy of Longing when you said it was a favorite. I see why it is dear to your heart but not one I reread.The situation of the miners is very distressing.

  60. One trap I have seen new authors fall into is trying to make the verbs connected to the dialogue more interesting, so that instead of merely saying “she said,” they constantly use phrases like “she exclaimed,” “she pondered,” “she queried,” and the like. Although verbs like that can help establish the mood of a conversation or statement, using them too often can be distracting. Readers tend to skip over “said” so its best to use it unless you’re specifically trying to emphasize the character’s tone of voice.

  61. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I just can’t get the thoughts down on paper.I wonder, why you don’t have more books set in Wales?

    • There are a few, Andrea. I am always hesitant to set books there. I have such a deep emotional attachment to my country that I have to have just the right story and just the right setting to induce me to go there with a book!

  62. I have been too busy to be writing, but I would really love to start again. Facing that blank page can be very daunting. I sometimes find that I tend to sound too cynical in the dialogue between my characters. I hope that’s not my true self coming through. Thanks for all the help and advice you’re giving to people like me. It’s really appreciated, and I’m not being cynical here.

  63. I love reading dialogue when it flows easily and I always know who is speaking. I love getting lost in a story. Being pulled out of a story to backtrack because I don’t know who is speaking is frustrating. It’s like I have been forced back into reality when I wasn’t ready. I love reading dialogue when it’s so good that I feel I am a party or a witness to the conversation, that I am there. I love to not just envision what I am reading, but to become a part of it, the place that the story is set in, the people, all of the little things that go into bringing a story and its characters to life.

  64. I love your dialogue. That’s what I find so rich about your writing. I always have to be careful when I try to randomly reread only section of your books, because I fall back in love with how the characters speak to each other, and interact, and I look up,and I am halfway to finishing it again, lol. The Proposal has great dialogue, as well as Slightly Dangerous and and Slightly Married. I also love how you are not afraid of awkward pauses, and long silent looks. It really gives gravitas to the characters as they get to know each other. Really genuine.

  65. I, too, tend to go crazy when I can’t tell who is speaking. Even if the requisite “He/She said” aren’t used, sometimes, just the movement of each individual, such as turning toward or away from the other speaker is enough. It’s one reason I really enjoy your books.

  66. I was horrible at writing dialogue. It always came out stilted and was a bunch of telling rather than showing. It was truly terrible. I did two things, in addition to taking a couple creative writing classes, to improve:
    1. I went to panels specifically for writers at my local feminist SFF convention. I listened to writers and editors talk about what does and doesn’t work in writing. I also listened to writers read their own work. It was illuminating.
    2. I read. I read a lot. In addition to the SFF and romance I’ve devoured all my life, I read maybe 300 Regency Historicals in the space of a little more than a year before the words just started pouring out of me. Dirty, sexy words. And then conversations that were, if I may say so myself, fun and funny and conversations that moved the story forward. They felt natural. There are times when I *just* write conversation. I can worry about the he saids and she saids and the tics later. If it’s moving forward, I don’t question it, I just keep going. Words on the page are what matter.
    *shrug* That’s what works for me and I’m around 90,000 words into my first book and 20,000 into a second. Are they good? I have no idea, but when I was rereading the first one a couple weeks ago, I literally forgot I was the one who wrote it. That’s a good sign, right?

    • Yes, it does happen, Shayla. Sometimes someone will send me a quote and I think dash it, but I wish I had written that–and then discover that it is a quotation from one of my books! Nice feeling!

  67. I am writing a book about my grandparents — setting is the Philippines, circa early 1990s, quite different from your historical novels. Despite the different settings, I think I have gained insight into how to write their story by reading your books. This piece on dialogue provides some food for thought.

  68. Great inner monologues give a book the depth of feelings, but dialogues give it live and humor! Good, lively, humorous dialogues are essential for a good book! And your dialogues as well as your monologues are really lively and fantastic and make the reader laugh and cry with the protagonists! I love your books and enjoy reading them so much! I would so love to have a signed copy!

  69. When I try to write dialogue it always seems stilted and unnatural whereas in your books it is so believable and it doesn’t always seem necessary to put he said/she said because each character speaks differently. Love all your books Mary and would really appreciate a signed copy.

  70. very insightful information. My son is taking creative writing in school, I am going to pass this along to him. Thanks, Mary!

  71. Realistic sounding dialogue in context is so important. The people have to talk like they belong where they are in the work. It’s always been my struggle.

  72. I cannot remember a time since early childhood that I have not read. The truly wonderful stories are the ones I read more than once, and I have many. To me a good dialogue unfolds in your mind and the words play a movie that captures your attention and emotions. I take joy in the fact that there are so many talented writers in this world.

  73. Very interesting topic. But harder to do then it appears. Some as author’s have the knack and some not so much. I love a book with great dialog.

  74. I completely agree with you that making it clear who is speaking is vital for an intelligible scene. And also having details of setting and action, so the reader can picture the scene as intended by the writer; body language is *so* important in communication, and then the characters may have particular idiosyncrasies that make them unique which come out when they talk. I find it especially amusing if there is a spot of dramatic irony, and the reader knows more than the characters.

  75. Yes, the less ‘he said, she said’ the better. I also appreciate the small details describing the scene that set the mood or sense of place.

  76. I love when a story flows, and you can just see what is happening around them. I have read one book that was written as diary entries, and it drove me crazy! Hardest book I have ever read. The more dialog the better! Gives the story some meat you can sink your teeth into!

  77. I agree that you need a “he said/she said” at times. Some characters have a personality that is easy to pick out but, during a long dialogue you need the extra clarification.

  78. I love the conversations the characters have and when they don’t say something I think they should I find myself urging them to speak up. Just say it already! Lol. It’s frustrating but it’s what keeps the story riveting and keeps me reading! I envy your ability to write such wonderful books and you keep me coming back for more. Even if I don’t win I am still looking forward to reading this latest story.

  79. Interesting post. I too much prefer actual dialogue to inner dialogue.

    You said that you let your characters speak and write down what they have said. And that sometimes what they say even surprises you. Do you ever edit or change what they have said? Just curious.

    I’m looking forward to reading LONGING whether I win the book here are buy it from Amazon. Love your stuff!

    • I do, Mary, but what I tend to cut or change is the boring bits when they are just talking for the sake of talking. I very rarely change the big surprises, the awkward things that come out of their mouths that change the whole direction I expected the story to move in. I just change direction instead.

  80. I appreciate your writing more and more when I read other authors. Reading is a learning skill as the example of trying to follow a dialogue and having to re -read it because you are unsure who said what or just getting caught in the monotony of senseless talk. It is up to the author to capture our attention and keep us on our toes at all times. Mary Balogh you are certainly outstanding at that.

  81. One of the (many!) reasons I love and read your books is for the dialogues between your characters. It defines their personalities and I feel like I really get to know them. Truly I feel like so many of the characters in your books are friends.

  82. Your comments on writing dialog was concise and very interesting. I am always attracted to books that are character driven with wonderful conversation, I like the story to move me also, but without interesting protagonists. I have read so many books that have won the National Book Award titles and I think they need to stop taking themselves so seriously. I do not know if you have read any Dick Francis, not your genre but he writes marvelous dialog and his books are character driven, I think why his books were so interesting for 40 yrs, I have been re-reading all of his books during these cold weeks and like meeting old friends. Would love to win one of your books but I have all but a very few early ones. Thank-you for the hours of pleasure.

    • I have read some dick Francis, Janice, though not much. I’ll maybe try more. And romance is my genre only as a writer. I read very little of it, perhaps because I want something quite different for my leisure hours.

  83. Love your stories and characters. Some I listen to during my 45 minute commute each day. Always feel let down when they end. Keep writing!

  84. just read what I wrote above, did not finish about protagonist, it sounds like they are not important, I meant to write that if the characters are not interesting not much point to the story.

  85. I think the best and sweetest part of writing dialogue is that we become a part of the story not just the spectators of the story. It’s almost as if we are hidden in the shadows listening, with each word becoming intrinsically linked to the characters and their outcome. You and Julia London do this in ways that are beyond anything I have ever read.

  86. I agree that it drives me crazy when I can’t figure out who is saying what in a dialogue exchange. If dialogue is written well, you do not even notice the techniques being used; it just flows naturally.

  87. I also find it irritating when I have to jump back and forth to determine who is speaking but more so than the “he said” “she replied” labels, I like when the charachters have personalities that show through in their speech. If I can know who is speaking based on witty rejoinder or serious expostulation I think the author has succeeded tremendously.

    Such a fan!

  88. I love the dialogs in your books!! They seem so real as if nobody “created” the dialog, which is what make your books so delightful to read!
    I completely relate with the annoying feeling when you have to go back and “count” who said what in the dialog, luckily we don’t have to do that with yours!! ;-))

  89. Mary, one of the things I love about your books is the way you set the scenes so the reader does really feel like they are in the corner looking on, hearing the words as they are spoken. Thanks for writing such wonderful books!

  90. I adore all of your books, the characters are dear to me. The dialog you create between them is fun, witty & draws the reader in to their struggles. Thank you for your insight on how their often quirky personalities come to be!

  91. I found this entry interesting. Although I communicate primarily through visual art – which is a whole different language – I think that your comments would be very helpful to aspiring writers. And, yes, I’d love to win the copy of your book 🙂

  92. I love all of your books! My favorite being Slightly Dangerous. I find your books with so much depth and I feel like I am living there with those individuals in the book and watching their everyday lives. Thank you so much for giving us such wonderful writing and stories!

  93. Thank you so much for this blog. Although I’m not a writer I find dialogue fascinating and like you I hate trying to figure out who said what, I also dislike not being able to distinguish when one person stops talking and the other starts, sometimes this can be very confusing.

  94. I can’t imagine trying to write what someone says in a romance novel. First, I’d be blushing half the time. Second, I write our company’s newsletters and whenever I have to quote someone, it always seems stilted even if that’s exactly what they said. I get caught up in the ‘George said,…’ and then want to say it in another way in the next paragraph so I change it up to ‘George stated…’ so you see, I’m not good at it at all. But thankfully when I’m reading for pleasure the ‘real’ authors know how to write that stuff! I love your writing! Very detailed and realistic!

  95. Sometimes i become bogged down by too much description and read only dialogue until I ask myself how long they’ve been locked in the cellar! I agree that some of us simpler souls need an occasional indication of who is speaking. I hate to have to backtrack to figure out who is saying what. Fortunately I don’t have this problem with your books. I have loved your books for the past 15 years. I believe my introduction to your works was More Than a Mistress; I still download it from the library every couple years. Thanks for the pleasant entertainment!

  96. Mary, thanks so much for your insight to writing dialogue. I like the idea of writing ideas down, i.e., descriptions of the people, what mood they’re in, if they need to sort things out with each other, etc. What a great and informative bit of info!

    I do so enjoy your books…I’m wondering if the 4 you mentioned are a series, or are they stand alone? Would love a signed copy of LONGING. cww

    • By clicking on the Books page at my web site, Carol. you can see a list of individual books according to date of publication, and also a list of all the series with the books that belong to each.

  97. Your dialogue must work very well because all your books are so good, and I’ve spent many hours re-reading them, too! So glad “Longing” is being republished.

  98. I have been doing a lot of reading during the past seven months (lost my job June). I have had the opportunity to try to catch up on authors I was behind on and read to some new stuff. Some of the books I have been reading were free books from amazon and barnes and noble. Reading some of the free stuff (and let me publically state that some of these books were so poorly written that even at free they were over valued) has made me appreciate even more writers such as yourself, who can tell a story in such a wonderful way that you seem to be a part of the story while your are reading. Who knew that excellent dialogue, grammatically correct sentences and proper tences could be so exciting. Having had the chance to read some stuff that had none of this, I just want too say thank you for the wonderful books you write.

  99. I have thoroughly enjoyed your books, Mary. I appreciate how you delve into the psychology of each hero & heroine. The way you allow each character to reveal strengths and weaknesses in their personalities, and reveal how those traits play off the other characters, make them more real and admirable. Slightly Dangerous is one of my favorites- wonderful character development and hilarious dialogue! As someone who has also tried writing believable dialogue, and failed miserably, I applaud your skill. I look forward to your upcoming novel and hopefully, many more to come!

  100. Very informative. I love your work and reading about your process for writing dialogue is fantastic! Would be over the moon to get a signed copy of your book!

  101. I have always been intrigued by how a writer can put words together to form a book. I love reading. In a very dysfunctional family, books were my refuge. I would get punished for reading too much. They were the only way I could escape the emotional & sexual abuse I endured. I started journaling 25+ years ago & found that it too was an escape for me. I seem to find dysfunctional relationships. I would love to one day write a book, a secret dream of mine that I cannot share with my family. Thank you for offering free books to those who have the love of reading as I do. I always pass my books along to others, especially to those who have little money left at the end of the month & consider books a luxury.

  102. I really love good dialogue, especially good banter. Like you, I get peeved when I loose track of who’s talking. Imagining the scene and what the characters are doing and actually saying the dialogue out loud, acting out the scene is a big help for me.

  103. I so appreciate people who write as I tried to do a touch once on a reading forum where anyone could add a line or two to a story we were all making up as we went along. I realised I’m not a writer, will never be, don’t want to be. I would rather leave it to talented people who have the talent/drive to do it. You are one of my most favourite authors and I don’t even check what a story is about when I buy one of your books, I just buy it because it is going to be quality. **You’re on fire at the moment with your current series, it is absolutely amazing. I am so looking forward to the next one. **

  104. I like the way you write – how you set up the characters, scenes, and dialogues.

    When I write dialogues, I often feel like I am really just a stenographer for the characters talking in my head.

  105. One of the benefits of having lived long enough, read for so many decades, and have always had an opinion that had to be shared, finally starting to write was like magic for me. No, nothing is finished, but I find that the words just flow as if I were reading something in my brain, and transcribing it to laptop/paper. (have done both–hate re-transcribing from paper to laptop!) Dialogue is not easy, but as people have mentioned, speak it out loud and listen! You will hear if it is crap. Thank you for sharing your writing habits–especially the no outline method and the way the characters can take control of the story! Love your work–real people living real lives with real problems and real solutions. No cardboard people.

  106. I love dialogue, and I enjoy it even more when I know who is speaking. I don’t like having to start reading over the scene because I can’t figure out who said what. I love your books !!!!

  107. You are right. Never underestimate the influence of dialogues. Too stilted, too long or too short can make the reading of a book a complete nightmare. Lucky that never occurs with your books.
    Christine

  108. You write with a very strong sense of character and I imagine that once your mind has determined the physical and emotional characteristics of your hero and heroine, the dialogue flows. After all–if you know these people, then you know when a line of dialogue is a “clinker” and has to be deleted. Hats off to you!

  109. I like the Truman Capote quote you included in your article. As a nonauthor dedicated reader of certain authors- you are on my list- I notice and appreciate the way you write and how your characters contribute valuable parts in building your story. Thank you for giving me many hours of enjoyment!

  110. Mary
    You are my favorite writer ever! I love the way you paint a picture of the scene, write dialog, and fold all the emotions into it. It is so real and I can hardly ever put your books down when I begin. Please don’t ever stop writing!

  111. Your writing has intrigued me for a very long time. I love the way you can get into the thoughts and feelings of both hero and heroine to such a detailed degree. It appears to be like keeping track of an intricate needlework pattern, alternating between the two. Perhaps that’s the origin of the phrase “weaving a tale”!

  112. Writing a dialogue? It may seem easier than describing a scene, but I think it represents a real danger for the language and the rhythm of the story. “He says, she thinks, he confirms, she doesn’t deny,…” One should be careful how to introduce the interaction… It’s very easy to get carried away by the contents of the dialogue and forget about the form.
    I would like to say you are my favourite writer (like most of my predecessors) but unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to come across your books in Slovenia. After reading the upper comments, I would like to read your books, so a signed copy would be a great opportunity…
    Hello from Slovenia.

  113. Hi!
    I guess I’m one of those people whose favourite part of a book is the dialogue, the interaction between the characters.
    I was happy to hear you say that really just try and try again to succeed in writing dialogue. I’ve tried and stumbled, so will keep putting in the effort.
    Thanks for your suggestions! All the best from Ireland!!!

  114. I love historical romances, and I have read many, but your books really make them come alive. Your description of the character makes it easy to picture them in my minds eye and the words you fashion for them speak or think or feel make those people come alive. Thank for the hours of entertainment!

  115. I agree with all your points, esp. the one where you have to go back and figure out who is talking (count the quote marks?). I esp. like the witty remarks, those with humor, interesting situations, and interesting reactions to the situation, not the “same old, same old…”

  116. I agree that it’s annoying if I have to check who is saying what in a dialogue. But even more annoying is to read a book where I keep thinking that he doesn’t really sound like this or she would never say that. Believable characters and dialogue are one of the reasons why I like your books so much.

  117. I enjoy the interaction of your characters so much I can read your books over and over. I never lose track of who is speaking. The personalities come through. I particularly love the way you use let us “hear” the reactions to dialogue. My favorite is the self-deprecating asides from Hugo after he makes some remark to Gwendolyn. Or when he tells her directly that something would be “daft”. I love your books, your characters, your wonderful dialogue and look forward to each book I have yet to read!

  118. I enjoyed this post! In some books I’ve read it is clear that authors sometimes have lots of difficulty with dialogue despite having a good story. I love your books because your dialogue appears natural and true to the characters.

    Also wanted to let you know that the new book covers are beautiful.

  119. Your comments on writing dialog has led to the discovery of your regency period romances and I’m currently seeking your books at our local bookstores. Writing dialog is frustrating but you inspire me to keep at it. My daughter has the knack for any sort of conversation in her stories. She sets a subtle scene which places the reader right there. She’s probably learned that from reading your books! Looking forward to much joyous reading.

  120. I have just finished reading “Beyond the Sunrise” and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the dialogue between the hero and the heroine!! The book kept my interest throughout and it was largely due to that dialogue. Without it, you would not be able to get the feeling of the characters (even though the hero was slight of words!). I can’t imagine how you do it–I would love to create characters that write the words for me! Thank you for such a beautiful book!

  121. I’ve never read any of your books, I just found you on Facebook and I believe I would find them interesting. I read so many other authors and always look forward to finding new.

  122. I am of your new readers, I have thoroughly enjoined several of your series and hope to enjoy more. I really took to your Survivors Series, I was without the ability to walk normally and lost the use of my left hand years ago due to an accident. Much better now, but I remember the difficulties of living in a normal world with a non-normal body, I really admire how they deal with their difficulties. Thank you for your good reads.
    Cheers Melodee

  123. The chief reason that you are my favorite author is the lively dialogue between your eminently interesting characters. I am interested to hear about the details you put in which have helped me visualize the scenes so well. Does it all come at once, tumbling out of your keyboard, or do you return to the scene again and again, adding more or taking away the excess? Whatever you do its tremendous. I’m thinking now of a personal favorite in Secret Mistress between Angeline and Heyward on the wall of the folly. Just about brought tears! You reveal so much by what each character sees in the other.

    • Yes, Tracey, dialogue usually does come tumbling out onto the page, just as the characters say it, and what they say often surprises me. I always go back again and again to rewrite and revise and tweak what I write. But I think I do less changing to the dialogue than to anything else.

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