Dialogue is important

When I read a piece of prose, whether it’s a short story or a novel, and the dialogue is done well, my heart gives a little skip of excitement. (I know, an exciting life!) Here is a writer who has taken the time to learn their craft.

And it generally extends to other aspects of the writing as well, and very much encourages me to keep reading. In fact, if I open a book preview and the dialogue punctuation is incorrect, it’s an automatic pass for me. This is a shame because that’s the easiest part to learn.

But dialogue is so much more than the correct placement of commas. It’s about conversations which flow naturally, which hold the reader’s attention, and which leads them along with the characters as the story unfolds.

Learning your craft as a writer

In 2019, I offered to do a workshop on dialogue for  local writing event. Not because I was an expert but because it gave me a motivation to dig into the topic. It was revealing and rewarding, and the workshop received good feedback. It was only an hour, but I learned a lot. Now when I’m writing I try hard to put what I learned into practice.

‘Maslow’s’ dialogue hierarchy

The basis of the workshop was this diagram, which gives an easy-to-follow approach for getting the best out of those conversations between our characters.

Start with the basics: correct punctuation is the air and water of dialogue. Then we move all the way up to using dialogue to drive our stories forward with pace and energy.


A practical overview

In the attached pdf, I’ve aimed to distil what I learned into a short practical guide, addressing each of the steps in the hierarchy. I hope even the most experienced writers among us will find some nugget here.

Originally from Australia, Cheryl Burman arrived in the Forest of Dean, UK via a few years in Switzerland. The Forest inspired her to write, as it has inspired many before her. She is the author of the fantasy trilogy, Guardians of the Forest, and of Keepers, an historical women’s fiction novel set in Australia in the 1950s. Her flash fiction, short stories and bits of her novels have won various prizes and long/short listings. Her latest project is set against the backdrop of the Forest and the River Severn, and is a magical realism novel about a young farm girl who talks to the river, which she knows as Sabrina, goddess. Cheryl is married with two grown children and a border collie, Sammy, who is also an author. Follow Cheryl on Twitter @cr_burman and visit her website at cherylburman.com.