The best books on writing provocative, dramatic dialogue

William Noble Author Of Shut Up! He Explained: A Writer's Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue
By William Noble

Who am I?

Words have been part of my life since I was ten years old when my father suggested I read a page from the dictionary each school night. “Words have lives and histories,” he said, ”make them your friends.” In my teens, I saw individual words setting the tone for how someone felt, and I promised myself one day I'd write a book about words and how they were a window to one's inner self. Little did I realize that when I wrote that book, it would morph into one about dialogue writing and achieve international kudos. The book offers this simple truth: make sure each line of dialogue moves your story forward...

I wrote...

Shut Up! He Explained: A Writer's Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue

By William Noble,

Book cover of Shut Up! He Explained: A Writer's Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue

What is my book about?

Dialogue must contribute to the telling of the story said Victorian-era novelist Anthony Trollope more than one hundred years ago and his words have been a yardstick for writers ever since. A more recent novelist, Stephen King, wrote, “When dialogue is right, we know. When it’s wrong we also know—it jags on the ear like a badly tuned musical instrument.”

In Shut Up! He Explained, William Noble shows you how to write dialogue that sounds right and contributes.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dialogue: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Effective Dialogue (Write Great Fiction Series)

Why did I love this book?

I find her goal of showing dialogue as a natural extension of breathing and talking both provocative and crucial. Writers need to become the characters they are writing about and Kempton shows how dialogue can set a mood, intensify story conflict, reveal character motives, and develop setting and background. She provides challenging dialogue-writing exercises at the end of each chapter.

By Gloria Kempton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dialogue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Craft Compelling Dialogue

When should your character talk, what should (or shouldn't) he say, and when should he say it? How do you know when dialogue--or the lack thereof--is dragging down your scene? How do you fix a character who speaks without the laconic wit of the Terminator?

Write Great Fiction: Dialogue by successful author and instructor Gloria Kempton has the answers to all of these questions and more! It's packed with innovative exercises and instruction designed to teach you how to:

   • Create dialogue that drives the story
   • Weave dialogue with narrative and action
   • Write dialogue that…

Writing Dialogue

By Tom Chiarella,

Book cover of Writing Dialogue

Why did I love this book?

Savvy writers don't limit themselves to writing dialogue in a single media market; they welcome opportunities and challenges in print and broadcast, whether it's writing fiction or doing film or television scripts. This book spells out how to approach dialogue writing with specific media and how to achieve realistic and dramatic effects. The author urges writers to listen... listen... listen...and “hear the people around you!” Be an eavesdropper, he suggests, and remember what you hear!

By Tom Chiarella,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Writing Dialogue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whether you're writing an argument, a love scene, a powwow among sixth graders or scientists in a lab, this book demonstrates how to write dialogue that sounds authentic and original. You'll learn ways to find ideas for literary discussions by tuning in to what you hear every day. You'll learn to use gestures instead of speech, to insert silences that are as effective as outbursts, to add shifts in tone, and other strategies for making conversations more compelling. Nuts and bolts are covered, too - formatting, punctuation, dialogue tags - everything you need to get your characters talking.

Book cover of Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen

Why did I love this book?

This author is a renowned Master Teacher of storytelling art whose students have won numerous writing awards across the media spectrum. He covers dialogue writing for live theater, film, and television and offers suggestions on building effective dialogue writing skills, no matter the media, even showing how a dialogue line might change depending upon the writing category. He provides easy-to-follow examples of both good and bad dialogue writing in the various media categories.

By Robert McKee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dialogue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The long-awaited follow-up to the perennially bestselling writers' guide Story, from the most sought-after expert in the art of storytelling.
Robert McKee's popular writing workshops have earned him an international reputation. The list of alumni with Oscars runs off the page. The cornerstone of his program is his singular book, Story, which has defined how we talk about the art of story creation.

Now, in Dialogue, McKee offers the same in-depth analysis for how characters speak on the screen, on the stage, and on the page in believable and engaging ways. From Macbeth to Breaking Bad, McKee deconstructs key scenes…

Book cover of The Fiction Writer's Guide to Dialogue: A Fresh Look at an Essential Ingredient of the Craft

Why did I love this book?

Here is a “look-see” at writing fiction dialogue while mindful of and applying some of Elmore Leonard's classic Ten Rules of Writing: when to use dialogue tags... why using “said” is best... why not to use adverbs to modify “said”...? There's history here, too, as Hough traces the refining of fiction dialogue as an art form from the nineteenth and early twentieth century to the present while providing stunning examples along the way.

By John Hough Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fiction Writer's Guide to Dialogue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dialogue is often overlooked as a necessary and potent instrument in the novelist's repertoire. A novel can rise or fall on the strength of its dialogue. Superb dialogue can make a superb novel. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "Action is character." George V. Higgins said, "Dialogue is character." They were both right, because dialogue is action. It comprises much, if not all, of the clarifying drama of any novel. How much physical action can there be in 300 pages, even in a crime novel or a thriller? And all conflict, even physical, begins as dialogue.

Hough explains how dialogue can reveal…

Book cover of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Why did I love this book?

I have used this modern classic in my writing classes and students find it both helpful and enjoyable. While only a single chapter is devoted exclusively to dialogue-writing, Lamott's homespun advice and conversational tone wrap her dialogue-writing advice around other story elements such as plotting and characterization so dialogue becomes part of an integrated story rather than saddled with irrelevancy. There's practical advice here on getting started, on joining a writer's group, and on coping with writer's block.

By Anne Lamott,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Bird by Bird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An essential volume for generations of writers young and old. The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this modern classic will continue to spark creative minds for years to come. Anne Lamott is "a warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps" (Los Angeles Times). 

“Superb writing advice…. Hilarious, helpful, and provocative.” —The New York Times Book Review

For a quarter century, more than a million readers—scribes and scribblers of all ages and abilities—have been inspired by Anne Lamott’s hilarious, big-hearted, homespun advice. Advice that begins with the simple words of wisdom…

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Interested in dialogue in, birds, and screenwriting?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dialogue in, birds, and screenwriting.

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