To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact

Arts & Entertainment

Crafting Dialogue

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 08:26 min

Margaret teaches how to use dialogue to reveal character and story, and discusses the importance of making your dialogue authentic to the time and place in which your narrative transpires.

Margaret Atwood
Teaches Creative Writing
Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.
Get Started


If you're going to have your characters talking to one another, it should be for some reason, not just to have them chattering away. When people talk, there's usually quite a lot of padding and verbiage, pauses and ums and uhs and you know and like, a lot of stuffing in the conversation like that. And if you put all of that into a book, it can get either unintentionally comical or very boring. So dialogues in books are much, much more selective. And they're usually trying to find out something from the other person or they're making some social move. They're making some power play of a social nature or trying to ingratiate themselves, or they may even be attempting to be seductive. So how people talk and what they say in a book is indicative of who they are, of course. It has to be consistent with who they are. But it's also telling the reader things that the reader needs to know, but most particularly, what their intention is in talking to this other character. What are they trying to achieve? What is their goal? And what are they trying to avoid? [MUSIC PLAYING] What people say to one another and what they're thinking while they're saying those things may be quite different. What the person listening hears, what they understand by what the first person has said, which can be something like, that person is trying to be quite rude to me although, they've put it in a polite way. I get it that they're being dismissive and condescending to me. You can do it like that. You can hear a veiled threat. For instance, you can hear some information that the first person wasn't intending to give you. Maybe they're attempting to be seductive and the other person just thinks they're an idiot. All of these can happen. Pickup lines-- what the person says, what the recipient hears, those can be two quite different things. It might be fun sometimes to have to have your character overhearing two other people. So that's another kind of use of dialogue, an overheard dialogue. And if you do that, usually the person doing the overhearing is either learning a secret or hearing something quite unpleasant about themselves, so that experience people may have had in wash rooms, say, wash rooms in high school about overhearing other people discussing you behind your back. Because it is true in society in general that people will say things about you behind your back that they would not say to your face. [MUSIC PLAYING] It's hard to speak about someone's tone of voice or their voice apart from what's happening to them and who they are. So you need to know who they are. You need to know where they're living, what their social level is, what sort of vocabulary would be available to them, how they talk. What's their level of speech? What is their local dialect? I just watched a film called "Bad Grannies." I see these on planes. So they're all talking southern-- southern dialect, and they're putting in a lot of vernacular expressions because th...

The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.


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

Such an amazing guide for young writers, definetely useful and inspiring! Margaret is such a good example of what it is to be resilient and honest with your own work. Truly recommend!

Amazing woman with a wicked sense of humour. She inspires simply by being herself. I'm in awe of her talent and knowledge.

I'm not actually really a writer. But I think that the elements of writing that Margaret digs into are elements of how we tell stories, engage in relationships and translate meaning. She is not only a gifted storyteller, but a gifted storyteller teller. And I think that this MasterClass would have made the entire subscription worthwhile.

I enjoyed the class. The class will help me improve with my creativity of fiction books including the expansion of the genre in which I write.


Amanda R.

I started with James Patterson as my spring board into these lessons, but Margret was the reason I came here, when I heard her talking in the commercial for her classes it was like a light switched on. I plan on having other classes and teachers, but she by far has been the most engaging and fun to listen to.

A fellow student

All the lessons by Margaret Atwood have been interesting and the information is very useful. A lot is common knowledge but Ms. Atwood presents her points in such a way that the student is drawn in and believes the information. She is funny and engaging.

Stephanie L.

In her example from Alias Grace, the dialogue is not in quotation marks. Can someone explain why? Is it because the narrator is sharing a past-tense memory?


This was excellent and I learned quite a lot! I already considered myself fairly good at dialogue, but now I feel like I know quite a bit more and I'm going to go back and revise what I've written! A question, though, about the historical context- if someone's willing to help- my characters are from a historical period, but none of them speak English, and we don't know anything about common speech patterns back then because that time period was not very well recorded. How should I translate that? Should I go all the way to making it modern, or should I make an attempt to keep it semi-historical and avoid things like slang and figures of speech that might be more modern?

Dale U.

Dialogue is my favorite part of writing next to action scenes. It just seems to come naturally to me.

Daniel Z.

I enjoyed this class and I learn so much. I would like to download the pdf but it's not available. I appreciate it if you do something about that. Thanks for your help.

Andrea P.

I find that good dialogue is hard to achieve. Especially, when you are trying to tell the reader something about the character through the words he/she says. Dialogue can reveal so much, and I loved all the insights from this lesson.

Heath M.

I also love dialogue because I get to be in control of what my characters say and I get to almost invent their personality.


Sometimes I feel like I have too much dialogue going on in my writing, but this lesson has helped me decide what dialogue should stay and what is irrelevant to the story

Gareth S.

I love dialogue. Dialogue seems to be the most important part of my writing.