Image from Flickr by procsilas

If you’re a fiction writer – unless you’re writing a very short story or something decidedly experimental – you’re going to have to write dialogue.

For some writers (me included), dialogue comes easily. It may even be a little too easy – sometimes, the first words you think of aren’t necessarily the best. Other writers don’t like dialogue, but they recognise it’s an essential part of their story.

Great dialogue can immerse the reader in your book, your world, and most especially your characters.

Poor dialogue jars the reader, and may even see them put the book down in frustration.

Since you’re reading Aliventures, I’m going to assume you know the basics of writing dialogue (like how to set it out, and how to avoid beginners’ mistakes). Just in case you want a refresher, though, here are a couple of links:

Here, I want to dig deep into what makes for great dialogue … and what holds writers back.

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Image from Flickr by Denise P.S.

Kudos to LycoRogue for inspiring this one.

Do you have a hard time hurting your characters?

Maybe it’s pretty easy with some of them. (For me, villains are fair game, and Woobies seem to invite a fair amount of suffering.)

But chances are, you’ve either got characters who you hate to hurt, or you struggle to let anyone get seriously hurt – whether that’s physically or emotionally.

And yet, as a writer, there are going to be times when you need to cause your characters pain.

They need to fail. They need to be scared, upset, hurt, injured.

Because if the stakes don’t feel real, if all the conflict in your novel is easily and painlessly resolved, then readers just aren’t going to be as attached to the narrative as they should be.

Plus, you’ll miss out on handy opportunities to complicate the plot. Maybe your protagonist is sailing through every challenge with ease … but a broken leg will slow him down (and perhaps move him along his character arc of becoming less stubbornly self-reliant).

It’s one thing to know all this.

It’s quite another to bring yourself to cause your characters actual harm.

Let’s deal first with a couple of key worries:

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Image from Flickr by Ian Barbour.

Sometimes, life is so busy that it’s a real challenge to find any writing time at all.

Right now, my two delightful little ones take up a lot of time and energy. We’re also about to move house and writing time has been hard to come by. [Edit: I spent so long trying and failing to get time to work on this post, we’ve now moved!]

So, instead of trying and failing to find a couple of hour-long sessions every week, I decided to go back to something that was working for me a few months ago, when Nick was a newborn: writing for just 15 minutes at a time.

It’s not ideal. But it’s considerably better than not writing at all. And if your life is manic right now, maybe something similar could work for you.

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Image from Flickr by Jonathan Rolande

Back in December 1998, I spent my 14th birthday money on Nigel Watt’s book Writing a Novel and Getting Published.

And for quite a few years, my dream was to be a full-time fiction author.

Not everyone has the same writing dream, of course. But perhaps the most common, generic, one looks like this

I make a good living writing what I want to write.

In many ways, it seems a pretty reasonable dream. Of course, I doubt you’d say “no” to being on the New York Times bestseller list (I know I wouldn’t) – but you might well be very happy about doing something you love and getting paid for it, enough to live comfortably on.

In 1998, the path to achieving that dream looked something like this:

  • Step #1: Write a book; finish it.
  • Step #2: Send it to agents; get an agent.
  • Step #3: Agent secures publishing deal; writer lives happily ever after.

As a 14 year old (and indeed as a 20 year old), that’s what I thought would happen. That was the dream.

It may well have been your dream too, or perhaps still is.

My first novel floundered at Step #1; my second went out to agents and failed to secure more than momentary interest.

After a hastily abandoned attempt at a third novel, my fourth, Lycopolis, was the first I was truly proud of. And I decided not to go down that well-trodden path again.

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When and Why You’ll Want to Pay People to Help You Write

June 25, 2015

Image from Flickr by Images_of_Money. Should you pay for help with your writing? And when in your career should you do so? These can be really tough questions to face. After all, you probably want to make money rather than spend it. Unless you’re already a well-established writer, chances are you’re not making much from […]

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Split Narratives: Dividing Your Story Between Two or More Narrators

June 18, 2015

Image from Flickr by dadblunders. There are several perfectly good ways to structure a story in terms of viewpoint, but (probably) the more common ones are: A single first-person narrator, as in Florence and Giles or 600 Hours of Edward. A main third-person narrator plus occasional omniscient narration, as in Harry Potter. Several third-person narrators, […]

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Easier, Better Writing: Harnessing Inspiration and Motivation

June 8, 2015

Image from Flickr by jeff_golden. Inspiration. Motivation. What do those words mean to you? Some writers would have you believe you can’t write a word without them. Others think they’re unnecessary: you just sit down and write, regardless of how unenthused you feel. Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Inspiration and […]

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Writers’ Huddle Open for New Members (Only Until Friday June 12th)

June 2, 2015

As of yesterday, my community / teaching site, Writers’ Huddle, is now open for new members. The last time I took in new members was before I headed off on maternity leave in November, so if you’ve been waiting eagerly since then to join, head on over there now! (Quick note: if you got an […]

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There’s Never Enough Time to Write: Here’s Why

May 28, 2015

I’m back from maternity leave! In fact, I’ve been sort-of-back for over a month. But this post maybe explains why the blog has been so quiet…   Kitty and Nick, May 2015 I’m going to take a shot in the dark and guess that you’re pretty busy. You don’t have enough time to write everything you […]

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Last Chance to Get All Four Blogger’s Guides For Just $22

December 11, 2014

I’m still on maternity leave (baby Nick due in just a week, on the 15th!) My husband Paul is handling business-related things for me, so if you have any questions about the sale, please drop him an email at In case you missed my post on Monday, or haven’t had a chance to check […]

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