Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Writing Dialogue

James Patterson

Lesson time 10:21 min

Dialogue should always push the story forward. Listen to James explain a few common dialogue pitfalls and easy ways to avoid them.

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Topics include: Example of great dialogue • Heighten reality • Reveal your characters through dialogue • Do exposition the right way • Compress time • Move the story forward


All of your key interchanges with your characters, they're going to be good, bad, or indifferent just because of the dialogue. And how they talk to each other, it's going to reveal a lot about who they are. Who's smarter? Who's taking advantage of who? Who's lying? Who's telling the truth? Who's in charge? Who's really in charge? Richard Price, in Lush Life, you can see when he's just winging this stuff. In this scene, it's cops on patrol, and they're following a car. And the one cop says, "What do we got?" And the other cop says, "Two males in front seat." And the cop says, "What do we got?" He's asking for more. And the next cop says, "Neon trim on the plate-- tinted windows-- front passenger just stuffed something under the seat." And the other cop says, "Thank you." And then this one cop, Lugo, hits the misery lights-- the lights over-- and the cop car climbs up on the Honda's rear. And these two cops, Daley and Lugo slow walk up on the other side of the stopped car. And the driver is a Latin guy. And the guy says, "Officer, what did I do?" And the cop says, "License and registration please." And the driver goes, "For real, what did I do?" And the cop says, "You always drive like that?" And this Latin guy goes, "Like what?" And the cop says, "Signaling lane changes-- all road courteous and shit." And the poor Latin guy goes, "Excuse me?" And the cop goes, "Come on. Nobody does that unless they're nervous about something." And then the poor Latin guy goes, "Well, I was." And the cop goes, "Nervous?" And the poor Latin goes, "You was following me." And the cop goes, "A cab was following you?" And the Latin guy goes, "Yeah, yeah, OK a cab. All serious, officer-- and no disrespect intended. Maybe I can learn something here-- but what did I do?" And the cop goes, "Primary, you have neon trim on your plates." And the Latin guy, still confused, he goes, "Hey, I didn't put it there. This is my sister's whip." And the cop goes, "Secondary, your windows are too dark." And the Latin guy goes, "I told her about that." And the cop goes, "Tertiary, you crossed a solid line." And the Latin guy goes, "To get around a double parked car." And the cop goes, "Quadrary, you're sitting by a hydrant." And the Latin guy, "That's because you just pulled me over." So this is a wonderful, wonderful bit of dialogue in terms of poor guy getting pulled over, done nothing. And it's very comedic. And it's tragic comic. And it's just wonderful. When you write stuff like that, you're going to make a lot of money, and you don't need my advice. But that's great dialogue. My style-- it isn't realism. It's heightened. It's funnier, or wittier, or more dramatic than what people would really say in real life. But it feels real. It feels real. And then sometimes, you'll have stuff that really is-- it is very realistic. I think the super realistic dialogue is genera...

About the Instructor

James Patterson, the author of 19 consecutive No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, reveals his tricks of the trade. In his first online writing class, he guides you from the start to the finish of your book.

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James Patterson

James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.

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