HippoCamp 2016 Session Recap: We Need to Talk: Dos and Don’ts of Writing Effective Dialogue

by Melissa Walker | @heydaycoaching


amye archer

Amye Archer

Original presenter Georgia Knapp was unable to lead this session, so Amye Archer gamely stepped into the breach, building on Knapp’s presentation to guide a packed audience through the fraught terrain of dialogue writing. Archer began with an interactive discussion of the reasons we write dialogue:

  • To move the action along
  • To build a scene
  • To reveal details about the characters
  • To show rather than tell


From there, she offered up several considerations that should guide us in writing dialogue. “Strive to make dialogue natural,” Archer advised us, and she recommended reading the dialogue out loud in order to detect the clunky, the stilted, and the just plain silly.  Bad dialogue doesn’t progress the story, drones on and on repetitively, and doesn’t sound like the character. That last item is very important.  The dialogue should be appropriate for the character who is speaking. Curse when the character would curse, Archer advised, and choose vocabulary appropriate for the age, social status, background, and education of the speaker.

Archer peppered her slides with cute photos of her children in order to entertain us, and she offered several examples of good and bad dialogue which we analyzed together.

Her best tips on learning to write good dialogue:

  • Read it out loud
  • Eavesdrop, eavesdrop, eavesdrop to learn how people sound in conversation
  • Watch plays and movies and analyze the ways they use dialogue.


“Good dialogue is one of the spokes on the wheel of good writing,” Archer concluded. “It gives the scene energy.”