Reading Like a Writer
Advice from Francine Prose’s
book of the same title
• “Dialogue” refers to spoken words.
• Remember that as humans, when we
communicate we are not only sharing
information, but we are also
attempting to make an impression,
achieve a goal, and/or prevent the
listener from noticing what is not
• Poor dialogue often simply attempts to
communicate information (exposition).
– “Hi, Joe. What have you been up to?”
– “Well, Sally, as you know, I’m a web developer. I’m twenty-
six years old, and I’ve lived here in Tampa for three years.
I’m recently married, but I have few friends in town
besides my wife. I’ve been coming to these meetings for
new web developers for a few weeks now, but I haven’t met
anyone who can help me with my business yet.”
• The best dialogue hopes to achieve more than one
goal (not simply information, but also something
• Bruce Wagner’s I’m Losing You
• Simon makes his living removing dead
animals from the property of rich
Californians. His mother is a
psychiatrist and has remarried a man
named Mitch. Simon and Mitch have
an encounter while rummaging
through the refrigerator.
“Does your mother know you’re here?”
“That’s a negative.”
“There’s some wonderful cheese in there.” Mitch took over the
Traulsen, reestablishing supremacy. He grinned, scanning Simon’s
coveralls. “I hope you’re pretty well dusted off.” He went to the
cabinet and got a plate. “How’s business?”
“Things were dead but now they’re picking up.” Simon heh-
heh’ed and gulped a Diet Sprite. “Mom with a patient?”
“You mean client.” Mitch smiled correctively at Simple Simon.
“Patience is something we lose. We don’t lose clients – not hopefully,
anyway.” Through the window, an Asian girl lingered by a table in
front of Mitch’s cottage. The stepfather took note, then said, “And
yes, she’s with a client.”
“I probably won’t see her then. Need to get home and write.”
“I’ll tell Calliope you said hello.”
“You know, I usually charge sixty-five for that – to say hello,”
he said, nonsensically. Simon took a parting smear of Brie. “She’s
getting a real deal. Tell her the Dead Animal Guy stopped by, she
hates that. No! Tell her Ace Ventura, Dead Pet Detective, was here.”
“I think I’ll just say, ‘Your son came by to see you.’ So long,
Simon. And clean up after yourself, okay?”
• Dialogue can reflect the tone or theme
you want a story to take on.
• In this game, you are to write a
conversation between two people.
Identify the people only by signs such
as “A”, “B”, “X”, or “Y”. Write only
what the two people say to each other;
give no description of scene, no
physical description of the two
characters: nothing but the signs
identifying the characters and what
• The challenge of this game is to make the situation
and the characters clear to the reader using only
speech as a means. Do not include stage directions
either. (Do not have the characters name each other
or describe the situation to each other.) The reality
that your dialogue presents should become clear to
you as you write the dialogue and clear to the
reader as he or she reads it. The details will
usually remain open-ended, however, since the
reader will have to interpret the significance of
what is said.
Here is part of a sample dialogue:
A: B! B!
A: It’s 7:30.
A: Are you awake? Come on, talk to me. You said you wanted
to get up at 7:30 so you’d have plenty of time.
B: Okay, okay, I’m awake! Will you leave me alone?
A: You don’t sound very awake to me. Make some original
B: Gosh! I’m awake! Will you leave me alone?
A: Hey, you’re the one that yells and screams when you don’t
have enough time to get ready and it’s always my fault
because don’t get you up on time!
B: I told you I’m awake.
A: Ok. Do you want me to heat up some coffee?
• Your dialogue should be at least one
page, front and back, double-spaced