The Fiction Writer's Guide to Dialogue

 

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.

“Think of dialogue in fiction as what is left when the extraneous verbiage is stripped away,” writes John Hough, Jr. He explains how dialogue can reveal a character’s nature as well as his or her defining impulses and emotions. He shows the reader ways to create tension in every conversation. Hough illustrates with examples from his own work and from that of the best modern writers of dialogue, including Cormac McCarthy, Kent Haruf, Joan Didion, Annie Proulx, Lee Smith, Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins, William Kennedy, and Howard Frank Mosher. He cites early twentieth-century writers who refined and advanced dialogue as an art form: Ernest Hemingway to Dorothy Parker. With a little help as well from Dickens and Melville.

 

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Little Bighorn

 

As a favor to the beautiful actress Mary Deschenes, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer hires her eighteen-year-old son Allen Winslow as an aide for his 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne. Traveling west against his will, Allen finds himself in the company of Addie Grace Lord, sixteen, sister of one of Custer’s regimental surgeons. The two fall in love, and it is with foreboding that Addie Grace watches Allen and her brother George ride out with Custer’s Seventh Cavalry. Weeks later in Montana, hundreds of miles to the west, the Seventh brings its quarry to bay beside a river called the Little Bighorn.

 

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Bunch of Grapes

Eight Cousins

 

Seen the Glory

 

A classic in the making: Seen the Glory re-creates the Civil War experience as vividly as the classic novel The Killer Angels. The soldiers of the storied 20th Massachusetts regiment, the sullen Southerners they march past, the hopeful freedmen and worried slaves, the terrified residents of Gettysburg, battle-hardened Confederate soldiers are all rendered with realism and historical accuracy.

 

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The Last Summer

 

A classic love story, The Last Summer chronicles the doomed affair of a young man and an older woman running away from a life out of control.

 

It is the summer of 1968, and the country is in the throes of radical change. Politicians question the status quo, blacks react to decades of oppression, and students protest a endless-seeming war in Asia. Change is in the air, too, for 37-year-old single mother Claire Malek. She has just walked out on her rather cushy job in Washington, DC, as "special assistant" to Senator Bob Mallory. DC had become an impossible place for Claire, poisoned with a secret she can't divulge. She packs her 15-year-old daughter, April, into her Camaro and heads north, to a small town on Cape Cod, where she takes a job as cub reporter on a twice-weekly newspaper called the Covenant. It's a daunting challenge--she has never fancied herself a writer--but Claire is desperate for a new start, and the town, and its people, seem to be the answer.

 

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