Writing Dialogue

James Patterson

Lesson time 10:22 min

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

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

Set out to write a best-selling book

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.


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

Great informative class! I really enjoyed this class. I given got an idea for a thriller while taking it. James Patterson was awesome!

I had this idea for a story. So I decided to take the this class. And now I’m very confident about taking this idea to the next level. All thanks to James..

Super informative with enough technical detail to allow each participant in the class to deliver a project.

It was a wonderful class and James is a delight to hear.


Ian C.

Heightened reality - much better than real dialogue - you can get that stuff at the breakfast table for free. LOVE IT! Thanks James.

Mariam O.

=I wonder what’s going on your mind.. - You won’t understand.. = Try me! *She looks at the sky* - If you believe in what I’ll say, maybe then you’ll understand.. = Agreed! - See this bright shiny star? You never watched “The Princess and the Frog”, have you? = No.. - Well, this is Evangeline, know her story from the movie, but in real world she’s the best companion… She’s always here sharing every single moment with you; your happiness, your sadness, your excitement.. Everything! Even when you’re alone and you feel like talking, she’s always here to listen.. = That’s the real world?!! - My world is the real one.. Yours don’t make any sense, unless you believe… Shall I proceed? = Please.. - See these 2 little stars? = You mean the 2 attached to the moon? - Exactly.. I believe you haven’t watched “Peter Pan” either.. =Nope.. - Ugh.. You need to study!.. Anyway, the one on the right is “Neverland”.. It’s where you never grow Up..or Old!! It’s where Imagination is the only language spoken and Adventure is the only path taken.. It’s where you set free your Spirit.. = What about the other one? - It’s “Dream Land”.. It’s where we go when we’re sleeping = Not related to any movies? - No, it’s only related to Souls.. You meet different people, you do things you wouldn’t dare when you’re up.. It’s where you define your soul.. = Why are they so close to the moon? - Because the moon is our guide.. If you look closer to the full moon, you see his face; his eyes, his nose and his smile…or depending on your mood.. = What do you mean? - If you’re happy, you’ll see him smiling… if you’re hesitated, you’ll see him worried… it always depends on you. = So they’re so close because…?? - Take a closer look at his eyes, you’ll see that he’s always looking ahead.. He guides you to move forward.. = How? - If you have the Courage to set your Spirit free and the Determination to define your Soul, only then you’ll be ready to move forward.. The Moon will guide you home.. *He stares at her not knowing what to say* - I don’t care if the story is not true… To believe is what really matters.. = I believe! *She smiles* = Am I ready to know what’s on your mind? - What’s inside is easy… it’s the “Connection” = What connection? - The connection between me and every piece of land, every sea and river, every tree and flower, every star and cloud.. I feel their presence and I hear their call.. A piece of me is left in everything I feel.. And I know one day I’ll chase their call and I’ll reach their world.. I don’t expect you’d understand.. = I do…and I believe!

Paul A.

I find the way writers treat dialog very interesting. Some writers use minimal dialog, and others fill the entire chapter with it. I wonder what Mr. James Patterson would think about this subject? Also, the use of dialog tags. What is not enough and what is too much?

Michael O.

I just borrowed my first Patterson novel from library. Inspired to comment because I just found the number of responses Mr Patterson gives to queries at Office Hours! Truly generous.

Lorraine A.

Chapter Assignment: "Walter, what are you doing home?" "What the hell kind of question is that, what am I doing home. I live here. Why aren't you dressed? It's ten forty-five, for god's sake." "Oh, is it? Well, I fell back to sleep after your left and I just woke up. I was thirsty so I came down and … " "Bullshit. You had on a pink night gown this morning." "Oh, did I?" "What's going on? Where'd you get that shirt? It's not one of mine." "I got it at a flea market. Remember when I went with Mary." "Ellen, stop. I don't give a rat's ass where you got that ugly shirt. That was a rhetorical question. I want to know how it got on your body if you were asleep. What, are you sleepwalking now, changing clothes and going back to bed." "Oh, yeah, I forgot. I got up, took a shower and put this on. I felt so tired, I went back to bed. I didn't mean to sleep so late. The bigger question, however, Walter, is why the hell are you here at ten forty-five when you should be at work?" "No, the bigger question is why are you turning the table on me?" "Walter, we can do this all day long. So, let's call a truce. Now, why are you home?" "I, um, got fired this morning." "Oh, my God, you got fired?" "Yes. We're broke, Ellen." "Walter, I have a confession to make."

Paul T.

Chapter Assignment: Just for fun! “You’re home early Roger. . . again.” “Yeah well, its two in the afternoon and you’re still in your damn robe.” “Because I just finished cleaning the house and then I showered. Now your crap is flung all over the living room. It looks like I never cleaned at all.” “The house always looks like you never clean it. How big a pile of clothes is on the floor in the bedroom?” “Just the laundry, which I’m planning on doing next. Can you go to the store and get some detergent while I get the clothes into the washer?” “The only place I’m going is to bed.” “Really Roger, you never do anything I ask you.” “I’m going to bed.” “No Roger, you’re not. The bed isn’t made because I haven’t done the laundry. Now if you go and get the damn detergent, I can do the sheets, and then you can go to bed.” “Fine, I’ll go. Better make some room in the fridge for the case of beer I’ll be bringing home.” “There’s already a half case in there.” “Yeah, but it’s not enough to have to put up with your crap Pam.”

Paul T.

This is the most interesting chapter so far in the class. Learned much about how to use dialogue correctly. Thank you.

Francesca A.

Chapter Assignment: "Hi, honey! Why you home so early?" Lara said to her husband as he entered their living room. He paused before answering and walked towards the kitchen, "I need a beer." "You came home to drink a beer?" "No, just a rough day at work. Why are you so jumpy?" He took in her attire. "And why are you wearing a robe in the middle of the day?" "Oh, I was just about to take a shower when I heard the door open and got nervous so I ran out to see who it was. I didn't think it was you so early in the day." "Ya, well, things aren't always what they seem, Lara." He gulped down half the bottle of beer. "Are you okay? Maybe you should go to the gym and work off your frustration." Lara looked back towards the bedroom. "I'm fine. Everything's gonna be just fine! So quit naggin' me, okay?" Ron undid his tie and plopped on the sofa. "Fine to you too. I'm gonna take a shower." Lara hurried back to the bedroom, closed and locked the door.

Joel P.

Chapter assignment “Wow! Your home early” “Wow… you're up late” “What's that supposed to mean?” “Nothing you look like you just got out of bed is all. “ “What, can’t a woman sleep in once in a while? Besides, why are you home so early hon??” “I’ll tell you later, right now I'm tired and need a rest. “ “And I need a shower love, care to help me scrub my back??” “Baby I'm tired...” “ Oh please!! You know a shower will help freshen you up. And after, you can tell me about why your home so early.” “Hmm... maybe we just see were this shower leads us..” “Oh!! Sounds like somebodies not as tired as they thought??”

Natalie D.

"Why are you here?" She asked. She scooped up the brown trench-coat he’d dropped on the couch, tucked the black leather jacket she hoped he’d assumed was hers underneath, and tossed them both in the closet. "I live here, last I checked." "I mean why are you here at 3 o'clock?" She sucked in to control her breathing. “Gee, nice to see you too, Babe.” “Seriously, Jackson, why are you home so early?” “What’s with the third degree? Can’t a guy just come home for no reason on a Tuesday? Do I have to have a reason to come into the house I pay the mortgage on? I’m not grilling you about why you’re home at 3 o’clock.” “Where else would I be?” “I don’t know. Book club. Shopping club. Botox club. Some other excuse to spend my money club.” He flopped into his recliner and pushed the button to elevate his feet. “Don’t be an ass,” she huffed. “Book club was at 11:00. I was getting ready to do a little vlogging before you scared me. I need to rant after the morning I’ve had. Nancy controlled the discussion today and the woman left me with a migraine. Since you’re off early maybe you wouldn’t mind running to the store and picking something up for dinner and giving me some recording time?” He kicked his shoes off defiantly. “I would mind. Besides, you said we’re doing that dinner thing with your sister and her new boy-toy tonight, right? At his place?” “Shit.” She murmured. Shit. Shit. Shit. He pulled his laptop from its case, glaring back at the silver embroidered company logo on the front flap. “You go perform for your fans or whatever it is you do with that thing. I’ll do some real work before I have to go tolerate Eleanore and her flavor-of-the-month. He’s not vegan, is he?” “What? Who?” she stammered. “Who else would I be talking about? You’re so dingy sometimes. On record; I’m not eating any more jackfruit, so he better not be vegan.” “I don’t know why you came home just to pick on me. If you’re going to work anyway you could have just stayed at the office.” “But then I couldn’t pick on you,” he smirked. He clicked open a file titled CV & Contacts. “I don’t know why I bother.” She turned and jogged up the stairs. “Tell Dean I said hi.” He mumbled to her disappearing backside. “Hope he doesn’t quit his night job because you’re out of funds.”