Writing

Writing Dialogue

Judy Blume

Lesson time 20:15 min

Realistic dialogue elevates and sharpens your characters. Judy shares her love of writing dialogue and her ideas for troubleshooting if you don’t love it as much as she does.

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The one thing that's never changed is the way that I write dialogue or approach dialogue. It's always been the same from the beginning because I think this ear that I have for dialogue, I think it's always been there. I think it goes back to my childhood and the stories in my head, when people were always speaking in my stories, and the conversations that I overheard, or didn't get right but thought I heard. I've always, you know, I'm fascinated by putting people together and seeing what happens, and one of the things that happens when you put people together is they talk to each other. And so that for me is the great pleasure of writing, and I won't even begin to tell you all the things that are not great pleasures. But writing dialogue is my greatest pleasure when it comes to writing. Dialogue helps you advance your story. Here's the scene, and here's dialogue in the scene, and it's advancing not only your story, but your characters, because through dialogue you learn a lot about your characters. It's giving your characters knowledge that they might not have had. Dialogue helps me know who the characters are, so even if other things aren't working, I'll learn that. But it won't be the dialogue that will tell me that. Or maybe I won't be able to write dialogue between two characters if I don't understand what's going on in the book. If I don't understand what's going on in the story and why are they having this conversation, then out it goes, no matter how much fun it is to do it. It's got to advance the story. And, or, it's got to illuminate the characters. It can't just be there for no reason because it's fun. And I have to say that to myself all the time, because dialogue is fun. What makes good dialogue is believable, realistic, the way people really talk, and dialogue that's going somewhere. And what makes bad dialogue is, I don't know, characters who talk in full sentences and never interrupt each other and talk in some literary way that's not the way people talk to each other. So it's a question of capturing the voice, capturing the way that people talk when they're talking to each other on the street, in the workplace, wherever. They don't talk in paragraphs, unless you're telling a really good story. You know, the other person would say, oh, go on, go on. But usually it's give and take, give and take, give and take. And I like dialogue between more than two people. It's fun. And what you can do also, and what I like to do, is not necessarily say each time which character is speaking. Because if it's working, you can usually tell. Especially if it's only two characters. You can't necessarily if it's three, but if it's two characters you don't necessarily have to say, Nancy said, or Judy said, because your reader will know. You want to practice your dialogue. And that's so easy to do, because you're listening. You're...


Write timeless stories

Judy Blume broke the rules. Her refreshingly honest children’s books were banned by hundreds of libraries and loved by generations of readers, who bought 85 million copies of classics like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Superfudge. In her first online writing class, the award-winning author teaches you how to invent vivid characters, write realistic dialogue, and turn your experiences into stories people will treasure.



Reviews

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

I enjoy learning how other people obtain ideas. Although I don't get mine entirely the same way, it's nice knowing some of the ways are similar.

Great, Blume touches all the bases. Most encouraging. Offers excellent tips. Seems like she's addressing you individually.

What a wonderful surprise it was to discover the amazing Judy Blume. Thank you.

I loved this. What a beautiful soul and so very inspiring! Love love love.


Comments

Veronica F.

The project that I'm working on now does have a dialogue between some 4th-grade classmates. After listening to Judy explain how she used playlets maybe that's something I could add to my project in order to add more dialogue between characters.

Graeme R.

Judy Blume's style of delivery is quite beautiful. She may not talk in full paragraphs, or always full sentences, but she is always coherent, with a strong sense of forethought and integrity. I love listening to this beautiful, womanly woman.

A fellow student

Loved this series of videos, I have so many great notes now and am inspired.

Pamela O.

Session great but couldn't download this and the previous season's pdf's. Shame because one's that did download were great.

Mary H.

Writers are keen listeners to conversations in the world around them. This quote is inauthentic.

Mary H.

Lloyd Alexander's advice to me, as an aspiring writer, was that nobody can teach you to do dialogue. He said that there are no good books on dialogue.

Deirdre M.

Dear Judy Blume, You might not even read this, but I have a question. I have a wonderful book idea that has been bubbling in my head for quite a while. I’ve written out the characters, but they just don’t seem right. Do you have any advise on how to fix my problem?

Rachel M.

My personal rule for dialogue tags. Nothing wrong with saying "said." Only change it if you're trying to convey a specific emotion or the way it's said. Like "shouted" or "whispered" or "asked." If you want to be fancy with words like "exclaimed," use it sparingly. And use adverbs if you must but not after every single dialogue tag. Find the balance between repetitiveness and pretentiousness. I've been told by my peers that writing dialogue is one of my strengths. Not sure why. I guess because whenever I read a book, my attention is at its peak when characters are speaking to each other. So I want to make sure when characters are speaking, it's engaging. I don't have a lot of exposition where it's unnecessary.

Mia S.

"When people who write for young people ask me - and they often do - 'Are you writing for today's young reader, today's teenager? Don't you have to change everything about the dialogue?' I say no, I don't - I think the reason that kids can read 'Margaret' today and think that I've written it about them is, I don't know that dialogue changes from generation to generation, just like feelings don't change generation to generation. The way we live, the electronics, that changes, but what's inside doesn't change, and to me dialogue doesn't change. I tend not to pay a lot of attention to language when I'm writing dialogue - I hear what they're saying, and so I don't say to myself, 'This book is going to be read by a 10-year-old, so the dialogue's going to be a lot different than this book being read by a 50-year-old. No, because it depends who's doing the talking - it's whatever is right for that character, and that goes to knowing your character. It's not about age group, it's about - 'What are they talking about, why are they talking? What's the mood? Is this an angry discussion, something fun? Does she want something from her mom, does her mom need something from her? What is this all about?' I just let it come out. It can get tricky when it's a lot of characters talking. You need to label who's saying it so the reader knows. Sometimes I'm reading a book and I'll go back because the writer has done just that, but I will have missed - 'Who is this?' I have to go back to the beginning of the dialogue and then go all the way down and find out who's still speaking - that's not good. Your readers shouldn't lose track. What we all want to avoid, of course, is wooden dialogue; I don't think you should think it through too much, put down whatever you think it is. Take it out or do it again when you feel freer - do whatever it takes, do a dance, but get yourself to that place where you feel free, and it's OK. You can talk things through, with yourself, and maybe that will free you up to just put down this dialogue. Reading, you will find what's good dialogue, and what you think is wooden, tense, not very good. You will learn from that, just by reading it and going to the next book and finding it, because it's there - it's in every novel. It drives me crazy when people don't sound real - I judge a lot of what I read by the dialogue. I don't care if a critic tells me, 'This book is so lyrical, exquisitely written' - if the dialogue isn't there,the characters aren't there, forget it. It doesn't do it for me. Beautiful writing is wonderful, but it has to be combined with other things to make it work."

Mia S.

"Slang is something interesting - I try to stay away from slang. When I started to write, somebody said, 'What's in New Jersey now, the in-word, that was the in-word on the west coast two years ago.' That's how it travels, so be very wary of using slang, because that will date your book. If your book is dated in 1947, great - use whatever you want, because that's history. But I tend not to use slang, and I think that gives it a much longer life. When it comes to grammar, I have been chastised by many a teacher because I listen to kids talk and I know how they talk, and it's not always grammatically correct. I wanted to be true to how children talk; I felt they could learn correct grammar and I wasn't going to give into the, 'It's your job to teach them correct grammar.' I didn't think so then, but I tend to use correct grammar now. I'll flip through a book and if it's dense, dense, no paragraphs, no dialogue, I don't want to read it - but dialogue lights up your book on the page. You want white space on the page - dialogue gives you that. 'Playlets,' I often put in my book - it's like a little play within a scene, but it's just another way that I sometimes do dialogue. I might name the characters, the name would be on the left, or above the dialogue - it's just another way to get this information across. 'What's this one thinking, that one?' What they're thinking, really it's so much bigger than they are - how can they possibly understand? They have to come up with reasons. Maybe I was taking a break from straightforward dialogue, maybe it was Myrie, my inner voice character, listening - and it was better to do it in this little play form than straight dialogue, because she wouldn't have been participating. All these characters' names, there are so many of them - just within her homeroom where these little playlets take place. I think it was a way even for me to figure out - or to make them human, because there were too many of them."