An ear for dialog


I eavesdrop all the time.

When I meet friends for coffee I’m paying attention to our conversation but I’m also half listening to the people around us. The other day I heard a young woman talking to her two friends. I couldn’t hear what they were saying to her, but her voice came through loud and clear.

“I don’t think so,” the woman began. “I’m no longer afraid of my mom like I was in high school.”

Her friends said something back to her that I couldn’t make out. They quietly were letting the woman know that her assessment wasn’t quite right because soon she added, “o.k., I’m still afraid of my mom, but I don’t let it control me.”

Her friends quietly pointed out a thing or two and the woman started to slowly nod. “O.k.,” she conceded, “I do.”

That was a brilliant bit of dialog. I could inject it into a book as it is by casting the woman as someone on the phone standing next to me in line to get onto an airplane.

“But,” you point out, “I don’t have any dialog in my book. I am writing a non-fiction book on how to write a program for the iPad.”

You’re wrong.

Your whole book is a dialog, you just don’t realize it yet. You are talking to the reader and the reader needs to feel that connection. Your reader needs to feel as if you’ve met them for coffee to take them through a few things quickly that they need to know.

Don’t stop yourself while the words are flowing, but later when you’re reading through what you’ve written today, ask yourself if you really sound like that. You would never pause, put your coffee cup down and say “it may be clear to the observant reader that … “—so don’t write like that.

Sure your written voice will be a little bit different than your spoken voice but it shouldn’t be so different that it jars the reader.

Take advantage of the opportunity the next time you’re in line at the bank, waiting for your coffee, or anywhere else where you can listen in on strangers as they use their “authentic voices” to talk to each other. If someone’s talking loudly on their cellphone in public, don’t get mad, listen in.

Train your ear even if you will never write traditional dialog. It will help you when you need to talk to your reader.