Wednesday, July 9, 2008



This is left out of most nonficiton accounts because the writer can't remember EXACTLY what was said and fears that if he adds dialogue it will make the article untrue. Not so!

As I've said before, no one remembers word for word what has been said even an hour ago. Think about the ride home after an evening with friends and you are reviewing all that was said and the person you are with turns to you and says, "that's not what I heard."

Dialogue is what gives your piece dimension and the sense of reality. It makes it real. The important thing is that the dialogue doesn't change the integrity or truth of the piece. For instance, say you are writing about a picnic and Uncle Claude says, "This is a mighty fine picnic. Pass the mustard."

Uncle Claude may not have said the picnic was mighty fine. He may have said it was real nice, or fun. He may have asked for relish or ketchup. But the above dialogue doesn't change the integrity of the piece. It is better to add dialogue than to fret over mustard, relish, or ketchup.


After adding dialogue, read it out loud. Does it sound like a real person speaking or stilted? Is it age appropriate?

For example:

Little five-year-old Elizabeth ran to me and said, "Mother, may I have glass of cold water to drink?"

What is wrong with the above sentence? Stilted? Yes. Age appropriate? No. What would a five-year-old say?

"Mommy, I wanna drink of water. I'm thirsty."

A great exercise in writing is to take a pad and pen with you the next time you sip lattes in your local bookstore and listen to the conversations around you. Write them down. Learn how different people talk and express themselves.

NEXT UP: THE EPIPHANY- What makes your piece inspirational!

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