On writing dialogue that feels real, speaks truth


When it comes to writing dialogue, sometimes it’s a good idea to listen to the stories as they are told and then commit the exchange to paper in all its crazy glory.


(Flickr: Tristan Schmurr)

I had the  honor of attending a baby shower this past weekend. And as will happen when a group of women gather to support and celebrate a first-time mother-to-be, the birth stories flew across the room like trapped bats.

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As each woman spoke her truth claiming burst colons, blackened fingernails and failing bladders, their voices grew and each story topped the other, all of them combining for a raucous crescendo of warnings and cautionary tales.

And as those stories unfolded, growing taller with every telling, the new mom sank deeper into the sofa, color draining from her face.

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And I laughed. I laughed so hard and loud that the women stopped and turned to look me with a what’s-so-funny glance.

Then, I told new mommy not to worry about her colon. It would be fine. The fingernails would be OK, too. Her bladder? Well, considering that I worried for my own as I sat hunched with laughter, I said I couldn’t make any promises.

I played that dialogue over in my head on the drive home, marveling more at the effortless way in which the well-meaning women chimed in with each other, rather than their over-the-top advice. It was lyrical and lilting the way their voices moved, blending into a chirping, urgent chorus of advice and friendship.

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Now, describing those voices and how they fluttered and flitted about the room in excited anticipation of finally having an audience to hear them is no easy thing to do. But, as writers it’s our job to reflect speech and dialogue as accurately and realistically as we possibly can.

Failing to do so means that we may deny our readers the rich and unique experience of listening to a conversation from both inside and outside of the narrative.

The best way to write dialogue is listen to dialogue. Play the role of the observer, the listener for the next day or so and see what conversation you may happen upon.

Then, as always, write.

Kerri S. Mabee is managing editor at and founder of Breeze Media & Communications. Learn more about her at




Kerri S. Mabee

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