Guest Author James R. Callan – Dialogue, Not So Easy

jim-B&W-casualJames R. Callan

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.



Amazon Author page:

Twitter: @jamesrcallan

Dialogue, Not So Easy

Recently, I read an article on the Internet about writing dialogue.  It said writing dialogue is not as hard as you think. Go to some crowded spot and just listen for a couple of hours. Then, grab your computer and enter some of the stuff people were saying. It’s that simple.


Writing dialogue for a novel is not simple. And for the average writer, it is not easy. Probably it was simple for Elmore Leonard, generally considered a master of dialogue. Even for Leonard, most likely it wasn’t easy when he started out as a writer. To simply copy what people actually say in conversation is not likely to produce great “novel dialogue.” The dialogue in your novel must be better than the “real” dialogue you hear between people.

Here is a conversation you might hear when two women meet at the post office. (I’ve crossed out the fluff.)

“Hi, Mary. How’re you doing?”

“Good. And you?”

“Things are great.”

“Glad to hear that. Been to any good movies recently?”

“No. Too busy getting the kids ready for school.”

“Oh, it is getting close to that time of year, isn’t it.”

“Too close; too fast.”

“Isn’t that the truth.”

“Have you seen Joan lately? I’ve called and gone by and I can never catch her. I’m worried.”

For a novel, you might want to use only the part I have not crossed out.  “Hi, Mary. Have you seen Joan lately? I’ve called and gone by and I can never catch her. I’m worried.”

fluffGone is the fluff. Unless you are trying to make some special point, cut it out. If this is a suspense or mystery, the novel dialogue wants to get right to the point.  What has happened to our friend?

However, there are some things you can learn from that exercise of listening to people in some public space. One is that people do not always speak in complete sentences.  They do not worry about tense. They ignore many grammar rules. You can also learn about the cadence and inflection people use. What is the rhythm of the conversation?

You might be able to pick up some of the regional dialect, or words specific to the region. You can gain some ideas on how people emphasize certain words or phrases. It is also a good time to see what body language they use to get their point and their feeling across to the listener.

Much can be learned from listening to conversations in public places. You may pick up some key phrases, vocabulary, and other ideas. But keep in mind that the dialogue you put in your novel needs to be better than what you hear on the street. It needs to be leaner, stronger, and more distinctive.

It must be novel dialogue, not every day talking.Dialog front cover

This is just one of the topics in my book released last month, How to Write Great Dialog. Plot and character development are essential to a good novel.  But it is the dialog that can make the novel stand out. And sadly, it is dialog that many times is the cause for a novel being rejected.

In my 2013 suspense book, A Ton of Gold, I developed a dialog signature for many of the characters. This insured that whenever one of them spoke, she was true to the character I had developed for her. For these characters, attribution was not necessary; the dialog showed the reader who was speaking.

If you are not familiar with the concept of a dialog signature, grab a copy of How to Write Great Dialog and study that chapter. It will improve your next novel.

Thank you for stopping by.  I hope I have given you something to consider. And I would love to hear your thoughts on this blog and on dialog.

Cover-A Ton of Gold

 A Ton of Gold

by James R. Callan

Crystal Moore stands on the brink of losing everything—her only family, her self-esteem and her career.

Because of a long-forgotten folktale, murders, arson, kidnapping and firebombs besiege Crystal. And while she struggles to sort out the mystery, the man who nearly destroyed her emotionally reappears.  This time he can end her career.

Crystal will need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, her street–wise housemate and Crystal’s feisty grandmother.

This entry was posted in Guest Authors, Sharpening Our Writing, Writing Tips by Tamera Lynn Kraft. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tamera Lynn Kraft

Tamera Lynn Kraft has always loved adventures and writes Christian historical fiction set in America because there are so many adventures in American history. She is married to the love of her life, has two grown children, and lives in Akron, Ohio. Soldier’s Heart and A Christmas Promise are two of her historical novellas that have been published. She has received 2nd place in the NOCW contest, 3rd place TARA writer’s contest, and is a finalist in the Frasier Writing Contest.

8 thoughts on “Guest Author James R. Callan – Dialogue, Not So Easy

  1. Thanks, Tamera, for having me on your blog. It was a pleasure, and you have done an excellent job of displaying it. I hope some of your readers find some useful ideas in what I’ve written. I truly believe dialog is a key factor in getting published.

  2. Good blog, Jim. Dialogue is probably one of the hardest things for writers to get right. By the way, eavesdropping may not be the best way to learn how to do it, but it can be a great story idea generator.

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