Wordsmith Wednesday: Writing Dialogue – What People Don’t Say

What was I thinking?

Image by jasonEscapist via Flickr

For this week’s Wordsmith Wednesday, I’m pleased to introduce blogger Teri Montague who writes from England at http://bardicblogger.wordpress.com Teri will share some wise insights on dialogue.

About Teri

I grew up in an industrial town, located in a valley, in North-West England and have loved reading and writing since I learned to read at the age of four. I grew up with an interest in fantasy and sci-fi and started writing stories from the age of eight, completing my first full length unpublished novel at the age of fifteen.

After leaving school I went straight to college and then into employment at a large, local firm and it was at college that I began to experiment with writing poetry.

To date I have had two poems published, a writing portfolio at Writing.com, a creative writing blog and I’m revising a fantasy epic trilogy that I hope to publish. I still write occasional poetry but my passion is fiction and I’m going to start an English Language and Literature degree this September.

Writing Dialogue – What People Don’t Say

One thing that always stands out to me, in both fiction and television, is how the characters often outpour long reams of information about how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.

This is okay in some situations but consider for a moment how people react in real life.

Do they tell those closest to them everything?

Do they share all their thoughts and feelings?


Do they keep their feelings hidden?

Some characters will verbally spill everything. It depends a great deal on what kind of character they are and what their motivation is but other characters may hold back from divulging their feelings or motives, especially if they’re introverted or secretive characters.

Sometimes it’s not what a character does say but what they don’t say that has an impact.

i.e. Picture a scene between two people in love who are both already involved with other people. One character refuses to consider cheating on their partner, while the other character’s willpower is failing as he falls more and more in love with her.

How do you show this in dialogue?

The obvious way is have them blurt out all their feelings in a big dramatic, romantic scene.

Another option is to have them avoid talking about it all together but write body language and actions that show their attraction to each other.

Maybe the scene builds and one of them does spill their feelings or maybe it turns into a scene where they kiss or nearly kiss, all the while trying not to.

The point is, it creates more suspense to be subtle, implying thoughts and feelings rather than using dialogue to express everything.

After all, how many people have you met that say one thing with their words but something else with their action?

Thank you, Teri, for sharing this bit of insightful information. While we’ve discussed various aspects of dialogue before, this is one point I hadn’t thought about. Let’s open this to discussion, now. I’d like to invite all readers to share anything they’ve found to help in creating effective dialogue. Include examples if you like. Please post your thoughts in the comment section of this post. Be sure to stop by Teri’s blog for more short tips that will help you to become a better writer.


11 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday: Writing Dialogue – What People Don’t Say

  1. Jamie Dedes says:

    Well done, Teri. A good mini-lesson. Best of luck with everything.

    Thanks for the intro, Victoria.


  2. Bodhirose says:

    Thank you Teri and Victoria. Very common sensible and usable ideas here for helping people-to-people interactions become realistic.


  3. trisha says:

    thanks a million times victoria.


  4. […] Here it is! Thanks again to liv2write2day for inviting me to guest post. For this week's Wordsmith Wednesday, I'm pleased to introduce blogger Teri Montague who writes from England at http://bardicblogger.wordpress.com Teri will share some wise insights on dialogue. About Teri I grew up in an industrial town, located in a valley, in North-West England and have loved reading and writing since I learned to read at the ag … Read More […]


  5. I need to get the words in my head out and onto paper. My job is to write but it is more than that. I didn’t know that writing would be my work or my need. It has come to me as I write. I write so that others will listen. I write about inequity and marginalization so that it will stop. I suppose it’s naïve to think anyone will listen or that my writing will make anyone stop anything but I write nonetheless.


  6. Will be adding this to my writing notebook for future reference.
    Good tutorial and info from you both.

    Thank you,


  7. brian says:

    i struggle with dialogue, some good pointers here victoria…


  8. klrs09 says:

    Good advice. I, too, like writing dialogue. I tend, though, to write it in very short sentences. If you listen to the way people generally talk it’s not in long, drawn out monologues, but in short bursts. The advice to underscore with feelings and body actions is good, but it can be very hard to do believably.


    • Good point. I like going to a public place and just listening in on others. We speak in fragments so much of the time. I stopped reading a book recently just because the dialogue was in long, stilted sentences, no contractions, very formal (between husband and wife). Couldn’t take it and I’m too old to read mediocre writing. Don’t have time for it! :0)


  9. souldipper says:

    Great tutorial…many thanks. I love writing dialogue almost as much as I love reading it.


  10. jgavinallan says:

    This is terrific…especially about using body language to “underline” the words of people.
    Great post…worthy to be put in my little notebook of writing.
    thanks for the post


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