Laura E. Koons is the author of He Said, She Said: Writing Effective Dialogue:
Dialogue that drones on, clutters the page, or stalls the scene can ruin even the best of novels. Learn to avoid common dialogue pitfalls, balance your writing, and dazzle your readers, editors, and agents with snappy scenes and smooth-as-silk transitions between dialogue and narrative. “He Said, She Said” is packed with innovative instruction, detailed information, and essential exercises to help your dialogue skills mesmerize and impress.
The information offered in “He Said, She Said” is easy to understand and simple to implement. In this guide book you will learn: How to balance realistic dialogue with your narrative style, including addressing accents and learning the 4 things to leave out of your dialogue 5 ways to seamlessly insert dialogue into your scene, such as expressing gestures and employing summary dialogue 7 tricks to getting the most out of dialogue tags: everything from finding the right intensity level to avoiding POV issues 4 ways to improve your dialogue crafting skills, with prompts and exercises included.
Don’t waste an opportunity for success by settling for mediocre dialogue in your novel. Let “He Said, She Said” help you craft your characters’ exchanges with ease and skill.
Read on for Laura’s interview.
S.R.: What inspired you to write He Said, She Said?
L.E.K.: When we started talking at Red Adept Publishing about putting out a series of writing guides, I knew right away that I wanted to do one on dialogue. Dialogue that drops with a clang on the reader’s ear has always been a pet peeve of mine, and it’s one of those parts of writing that even writing classes sometimes don’t do a great job helping writers sort out. The ability to write good dialogue can sometimes feel like it’s a gift that’s either given to you or it isn’t. And some writers surely are just naturally good at it—but there are rules and tricks that can help any writer make their dialogue great. I learned those over many years—from writing myself, from taking classes, from reading (a lot!), and editing, of course. When a chance came to put together a guide to put all those hard-won tricks into one place for other writers, I jumped at it.
S.R.: You work with a lot of writers. What are some of the biggest dialogue
pitfalls you’ve come across?
L.E.K.: I think of writing fiction as finding a balance between the realistic and the artful. Fiction should be realistic to a point—the fictional world of a story should work in at least some of the ways that the real world works, dialogue should have some resemblance to the way real people really talk (and of course the degree to which this is true and the ways in which it is true changes depending on the kind of fiction in question—fantasy, or romance, or magical realism, or what have you). But fiction should also be artful. It’s not real life, and mimicking real life exactly usually results in fiction that just doesn’t read well.
The biggest pitfalls in dialogue share the same characteristics as any big pitfalls in writing any aspect of fiction—and that’s straying too far in either direction on that realism/artfulness continuum. Dialogue that is too like real life—that never tidies up speech of the kinds of oral crutches we really use or always reports everything a character said, even the boring, boring bits the reader doesn’t need to know—can be painful to read. And on the other hand, dialogue that tries to get too artful—if it has no resemblance at all to what real people sound like—is likely to turn readers off.
S.R.: What’s an example of dialogue that was so poorly written it took you
out of the story?
L.E.K.: The dialogue itself (that is, what the characters are saying) needs to read well, of course, but for me it’s missteps in the apparatus for getting the dialogue on the page that is most likely to throw me out of a story. I’m willing to sit still for a slightly clunky line of dialogue here and there in a novel, but if the dialogue tags are consistently bad, I’m out. And the thing is, wonky dialogue tags usually mean that something else is wrong with the writing—that the writer is trying to make the tag do work they should do elsewhere in the line or the scene, for instance. One line of not-stellar dialogue is just one line of not-stellar dialogue. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything else isn’t working in the writing.
S.R.: What do you hope readers will learn from He Said, She Said?
L.E.K.: Like any art, writing is a mix of the teachable and the unteachable, but I think so much more of it is teachable than many people think. Dialogue is one of those aspects of writing that I often hear people say they have a knack for or they don’t. That may be true to a point, but you can develop that knack. I hope writers who read He Said, She Said will find discussions and tricks that will help them in the process of fine-tuning their ear for dialogue and in learning what works in dialogue and what doesn’t.
S.R.: How else can writers improve their craft?
L.E.K.: Read, read, read. Everyone says this—because it’s excellent advice. Find writers who you think just nail the dialogue—or whatever aspect of writing you’d like to improve—and read, read, read them. Figure out how they’re doing it. Study the passages you like—that just wows you or make you cry or grin or what have you. That’s how you learn what works and what doesn’t. And then write, write, write. That’s how you learn how to do what works and how to avoid what doesn’t.
S.R.: Are you working on any other books? What are your plans for the future?
L.E.K.: I’m always working on something. I don’t have any craft books in the works at the moment, but I’m pecking away at a novel. It’s in early stages yet, but it’s a romance. Probably.
Laura E. Koons attended Lycoming College and then completed graduate degrees in Creative Writing at both Ohio University and The University of Tennessee. She has worked on several literary magazines including Quarter After Eight, Drunken Boat: an online journal of art and literature, and Grist: The Journal for Writers, where she served as Fiction Editor for the inaugural issue.
She currently edits for Red Adept Publishing. In her free time, Laura can usually be found with a book in hand, but sometimes she puts them down long enough to enjoy swimming, crocheting, and doing volunteer work at both her local library and history museum. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two ancient, snarky cats.