Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Crafting Dialogue

David Baldacci

Lesson time 15:26 min

Become a student of humanity. Learn how to deepen your characters by writing believable dialogue.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Identify the Emotional Context • Make Every Word Count • Become a Student of Humanity • Get Inside the Heads of Your Characters • Read Dialogue Out Loud • Limit Your Shorthand • Working With Shorthand: The Last Mile


[MUSIC PLAYING] - Before I sit down to write any scene of dialogue, one, I have to come up with my goal. What do I want this dialogue to accomplish? Deepening a character or furthering the plot or conveying information. But then you have to sit back and say, what is the emotional sequence of this scene? Are the people angry with each other? Has something traumatic just happened and they have to sort of flesh it out between the two? Is one going to cast blame on the other person for something? Are they happy? Have they just had a big triumph or victory and they're ecstatic and they feel good? That's all going to impact how the dialogue is going to play out. So what is the conflict of any that you're trying to work through in this particular dialogue? Two people are talking dialogue. People don't talk aimlessly, at least, you know, not supposed to in books. There's got to be a goal or purpose. What are they trying to accomplish? Are they trying to get the upper hand over someone? Then they might phrase their language a little bit differently. Are they trying to voice a complaint to somebody? Then the language might be a little bit different. So not only do you have to understand what the scene is for, what is the emotional circumstance of the dialogue? And sometimes people forget that second step. And a lot of writers I know, they-- they feel like, OK, here's what I want to accomplish. But then they forget that the people are really pissed off at each other, and the dialogue comes off as a lot more amiable than it actually should be. And then all of a sudden, you're just like, wait a minute, didn't he just clock this guy? Where did that go? So round out the scene in your mind before you sit down to write the dialogue and try to go through the traumatic events you envision these characters going through. How would you feel if somebody just told you, oh, by the way, I cheated with your wife last night. I'm really sorry. How would that affect you emotionally as a person? Or, you know what, a good friend of yours, I am sorry to tell you, just died. Or, the FBI is coming to arrest you. You have to get into the emotional side of the people engaged in the dialogue because that's going to totally affect how they speak and how they communicate with one another. And sometimes it may not just be words. It may be with a physical action, a fist or a scream or a grunt or smashing their head against the wall or trying to escape somehow. Understand what the scene is, both from an emotional point of view and what you want to accomplish, and then your dialogue is going to be a lot better. [MUSIC PLAYING] My rule of thumb with dialogue is to keep it-- is brevity. Keep it brief and punchy and conveying information and then moving on. Common mistakes are going on too long, getting off a point and going down tangents, and then losing focus at the scene. Or conveying information that later on has no purpose at all in the novel or it doesn't deepen...

About the Instructor

David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

David Baldacci

In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.

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