Tips for Drafting Dialogue: Starting Rough

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In the January 2015 Writer’s Digest, contributing editor and award-winning novelist Elizabeth Sims shares simple and effective techniques for polished character conversations in her article “How to Craft Flawless Dialogue.” Here, in this bonus online exclusive sidebar, she outlines her method for getting it written, then getting it right.


If you’re the kind of writer who prefers to cut and polish after your first draft is done, here are a few tips to ease you over the uncertainties of dialogue:

  • If, as you’re writing, a whole bunch of dialogue spurts from your pen, let it flow, even if you’re worried it’s too much or awful. Let it out; get it down no matter what.
  • Opposite that, sometimes you know you need a great bit of dialogue here, but nothing’s coming to you. Just summarize and move on, knowing you’ll get back to it. Nancy tells Levi to buzz off. A sentence like this can serve as a summary of a whole breakup scene; all you need is the gist.
  • When it comes time to flesh out that conversation, jot down what needs to be said, scene by scene. Try making mini lists with bullet points: Doug learns from Emily that Jasmine has a long police record. Auto theft? Prostitution? He argues to keep Jasmine in the gang anyway. Outstanding warrants?
  • If a whole conversation seems like overkill for what you need to convey in the scene, you can let your narrator summarize, and add a line or two of talk.

When Emily and Doug met for dinner that night, she told him about Jasmine’s rap sheet. It was impressively long, she noted, peering at him over her wineglass, including grand larceny and soliciting. But that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for keeping Jasmine on the burglary team. They needed her.

“As long as there’s no outstanding warrants against her, we’ll be OK,” he said, stabbing a chunk of steak. “Are there any?”

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