Character Conversations by Allison Symes

I like alliteration given this post and the last one, Creating Characters, start with C! Must remember to explore other letters. Q could be tricky but moving on… 

Dialogue - do you like writing it for your characters or dread it? 

I love writing dialogue for longer short stories. I say longer but compared to flash fiction, anything over 1000 words is long! I do use dialogue in my flash work but not as much obviously. In flash, I focus on one or two characters at most. Where I only have one, I use thoughts rather than make the character talk to themselves. To me, that seems more natural.

Do your characters like to talk?
Do your characters like to talk? Pixabay

The problem I have when writing dialogue at all is to resist the temptation to have a good old game of conversational ping-pong between characters. You, as the writer, are having a high old time of it inventing all this wonderful talk. You are sure a reader will enjoy it as much as you currently are. Er… to quote Gershwin, “it ain’t necessarily so”! (I have been here so many times!).

Conversational ping-pong can be great fun but can overload your story. Pixabay.

A reader is gripped by dialogue only if it moves the story on in some way. I like to show something of my character’s attitudes when I let them talk. That is moving the story on as a reader can see how those attitudes change or not as the tale progresses. There is potential for tragedy in stories where a character’s attitudes do not change. Think how different A Christmas Carol  would be if Scrooge remained hard-hearted after those ghostly visitations.

It pays to take a hard look at your gorgeous dialogue when editing. Is it all necessary? Be honest! Does this conversation reveal something important or show something about the character? If it doesn’t, then it should come out. 


Socially distanced dialogue! Pixabay image.

A story top-heavy in dialogue will switch readers off. Occasionally I will read pieces which are entirely dialogue based. I’ve come across the odd competition set on this basis. It is no coincidence though these pieces are always on the short side. Readers usually need the “bits in between” to get their bearings as to what is happening in the story and to see if they can guess what is to come. 

The other danger is where exposition creeps in and characters tell each other what they must know already for the story to make sense. It’s a not-at-all subtle way of conveying information. Dialogue must seem real to convince readers. 

Plenty of dialogue in here I would have thought. Pixabay

So you need other ways of conveying information. If it is crucial to know Character A has an obsession with red hats, you could get Character B to give A yet another red hat with a comment to show us this rather than have Character A tell us about their craze. 

Dialogue should serve a purpose and move the story on. There should be good links. Pixabay.

It’s a question of enjoying getting your characters to talk but ensuring they shut up pronto when nothing useful would be served by their nattering! There is a lesson for us all there I think! And now I will shut up... until next month!


  1. Your voice shines through in this blog, Allison!

  2. There's some really good advice here, Allison - thank you!

    1. Thanks, Fiona. I love writing dialogue a bit too much at times (another reason flash fiction is good for me!).

  3. My creative writing course tutor advised cutting every alternate line of dialogue. It seems drastic but I often find the story line is unaffected!

  4. Dialogue's a great topic to discuss as it makes all the difference. I can't remember where I read or heard it but one writer's advice was that the best dialogue is when the characters aren't saying what they truly mean, because that's often the way we speak to each other in real life. We hedge and obfuscate and hint at things rather than admit our true feelings. I've found that very helpful in my writing since.

    1. Good dialogue in fiction has to seem real but not necessarily BE real. It needs to be better than what we come out with in life in fact. So that means no hesitations or repetitions... (and for those of you, like me, who are fans of the radio show Just a Minute with the much missed Nicholas Parsons, you will know how difficult that can be!). Dialogue in fiction has to replicate what we come out with in life but do so with the "polish on".

  5. "It pays to take a hard look at your gorgeous dialogue when editing. Is it all necessary? Be honest! Does this conversation reveal something important or show something about the character? If it doesn’t, then it should come out." Allison, your timing is spot on. I am writing my final chapter and a half today and doing the edits tomorrow. I know I'll be cutting stuff out and I will be turning to your blog again for great advice. Thank you!

    1. You're welcome, Ruth. Good luck with the editing!

  6. Fabulous way to look at it, Allison. Right to the heart of the matter as always. Thanks for this.


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