Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dialogue with Natalie Charles

Please welcome Natalie Charles to the blog today!

Thank you so much for having me!

Dialogue is an especially important component of any suspense writing. If you've read a Raymond Chandler novel, you know what I mean. Snappy conversation between clever characters picks up the pace while revealing as much as pages of narrative, and when you're writing suspense, it's all about feeding your reader necessary information while keeping those pages turning.

The following is an excerpt from my debut for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, The Seven-Day Target. Libby has just returned the engagement ring Nick gave her– three years after they broke up.

"But you kept it. You kept it all these years." He said it with a quick snap, his words betraying a depth of raw hurt.

Libby halted. "I meant to return it."

"Ah, sure. When the time was right and the gesture was calculated to hurt the most."

She swallowed. "I'm due in court. Thanks for the tea."

"You paid for it."

"Then thanks for nothing."

This exchange is an example of how dialogue can do heavy lifting for a writer. I don't need to explain that things are tense between Nick and Libby; their conversation says it all, and in very little space.

Any fiction writer can benefit from using dialogue that sings. You want a page turner, right? So here are a few of my favorite tips.

1) Keep the tags simple – Yes, you're a writer and you have a way with words, but dialogue tags aren't the place to showcase your talents. Stick to "Bob said" and "Jane said" most of the time and reserve your clever words for the dialogue itself. Will readers gloss over those tags? Yes! That's what we want! We want our readers to get so caught up in the rhythm of the characters' conversation that they are carried to another place. Better yet, whittle those tags down to nonexistence at points. If two characters are having a conversation, let them speak without signaling who is doing the talking—unless those signals are necessary to avoid confusion. Reader confusion is a bad thing.

2) Your characters are individuals –Communication is wonderfully complex. People express themselves differently depending on gender, personality, life experience, level of education, and even region of the country or world. Take a look at some dialogue you recently wrote. Is your cowboy hero really as erudite as a Yale professor? Or would he express that idea in simpler terms? Would he be likely to talk freely about how he's feeling, or to admit that he doesn't know the answer to a question your lovely heroine is asking? (Answer: no, he would not). Dialogue can trap an intrusive author, so make sure your characters are really the ones doing the talking.

3) Remember that this is a conversation You may have heard the advice to read your dialogue out loud, and I'll echo that here. One thing that can jar me out of a story is reading dialogue that doesn't sound like something someone would say. Maybe the words are too polished, or the sentence is so long that no one could say it in one breath. It's okay for your characters to express themselves imperfectly, or to stumble over their thoughts at times. Maybe they think one thing and say another. That's all good, as long as they are saying those things like people.

4) Your characters are novel-worthy – Your characters are people we want to read about…right? That means they can be as brash, rude, or sassy as the most outrageous real-life people, or they can be as thoughtful, wise, and considerate as the most inspiring among us. The thing is, they have to be more interesting than the average person to keep a reader engaged.

So go ahead: let your characters loose. Let them say the outrageous things that all of us wish we were brave enough to verbalize, and let us sit back and revel in the thrilling mayhem that ensues. Or let them inspire us and verbalize the thoughts we've struggled with expressing. Either way, I guarantee your reader won't be bored.

What are your favorite tips for writing dialogue?

Natalie Charles is living her dream as a writer for Harlequin Romantic Suspense after winning Mills & Boon’s 2011 New Voices Competition. By day, she is a practicing attorney whose writing is more effective for treating insomnia than most sleeping pills. This may explain why her after hours writing involves the incomparable combination of romance and suspense—the literary equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter. The happy sufferer of a life-long addiction to mystery novels, Natalie has, sadly, yet to out-sleuth a detective. She lives in New England with a husband who makes her believe in Happily Ever After and a daughter who makes her believe in miracles.

Natalie loves hearing from readers! You can contact her through her website,

Natalie on the web:  Website        Facebook         Twitter

The Seven Day Target

He never meant to speak to her again. Back in Arbor Falls for a funeral, Special Agent Nick Foster has moved on. He has no plans to stay in his tiny hometown-or to reunite with the beautiful Libby Andrews. His onetime fiancée broke his heart, and what's past should stay buried.

Libby doesn't want his help. Her childhood sweetheart can never know the real reason she ended their engagement three years before. But when a serial killer targets her, she must team up with the rugged agent for her own safety. Something in her past has put her in danger, and the passion they've reignited puts their future in deadly jeopardy.

Read Chapter One

Review by Cataromance

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Buy Links:  Amazon          B&N         Powells
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So, any dialgoue tips to share?


  1. Good dialogue is so important. A lot of Indian fiction in English is ruined by awful dialogue. They say stuff like 'darling you look as beautiful as you did when I married you seven years ago' as if the person didn't know how long they'd been married. Or 'my father, the famous criminal lawyer John. C. Diaz, will defend you and get you out of this predicament' as if titles are used all the time in spoken English. Great stories and great writing but dialogue is their weak point I find. As a critic, I usually make a big deal out of it, but as I live there, I want to see their fiction doing well.....

  2. Thanks for the great tips. The one on our characters being individuals was really helpful. Sometimes my characters tend to sound too much alike.

  3. Love the snappy crackling dialogue sample between Libby and Nick!! Phew! What tension!! Thanks for the tips too! Take care

  4. Maria - those obvious statements drive me nuts too. It sounds so stilted. Hopefully your advice can help some of those authos out!

    Natalie - I worry about that at times too - especially writing in 2 povs. Have to be careful!

    Old Kitty - It's a great snippet! :)

  5. Nice tips! I'm with you--can't stand reading unnatural dialogue. Takes me right out of a book...

  6. Sometimes dialogue is the easiest part to write - if I shut up and let the characters speak. That's when I get my most natural dialogue.

  7. Elizabeth - I agree! Stilted dialogue is so hard to read!

    Linda - I love writing dialogue too. Letting them take over is the best!

  8. Reading it out loud is key. If it doesn't flow, then you know it's not right.

  9. Maria - Oh, I groaned at that piece of dialogue! Yes, it's better to leave backstory for the, "As you know," statements!

    Natalie and Jemi - It's definitely tricky to write two POVs and to make both sound unique. As a general rule, I try to give my heroes shorter sentences and leave most of the emotional musings to my heroines. :-)

    Old Kitty - Thank you! And thanks for stopping by!

    Elizabeth - Bad dialogue makes me itchy. A bad line here or there is forgivable in an otherwise good book, but it's jarring.

    LD - True! If you're able to hear your characters and get out of the way, you're probably on to something good. :-)

    Alex - Reading out loud is a great tip. Sometimes words look great together on paper, but come out awkwardly when spoken. There's a reason people speak one way and write another.

  10. All characters dialogue shouldn't sound the same, i think. We have to listen to our characters and put down what they're saying.

    Great interview.

  11. Thanks for these amazing tips! They are coming at the perfect time as I have been editing my MG book deleting adverbs and fixing dialogue tags. Much needed reminders as I go through the editing process. :)


  12. Alex - so true! It really does help to catch those bits that don't flow! :)

    Teresa - I agree! I have so much fun writing my male MCs' dialogue!

    Jess - It's nice to be reminded at the right time - so easy to get caught up in one thing and forget the rest! :)

  13. Much food for thought. In fact, I may just tag this post for future reference.

    Good stuff :)

    PS. Jemi, I just can't get used to your pink flower (avatar)! Keep looking out for your old one! Don't mind me ..

  14. Wendy - I know! My website (if I ever get it up!) matches my new pink flower but it's taking me a lot of time to get used to it too! :)

  15. Teresa - Absolutely! Hearing characters brings them to life.

    Jess - I'm so happy you've found these tips useful! Best of luck as you edit your manuscript.

    Wendy - Thank you! Glad you found it helpful. :-)

  16. Great advice. The only thing I'd add is to leave out all the boring bits that don't add anything to the characters or the plot.

  17. Lynda - good one! Slicing out those 'regular' pieces of conversation is generally a good plan. :)

  18. Awesome tips! I'll have to bookmark this post. Thanks girls!

  19. Great advice! Reading my dialogue out loud (in fact, reading my whole ms out loud) is one of the most important things I do.

  20. EC - I agree! It is :)

    Nutschell - yay! Glad it was helpful!

    Beth - reading aloud feels funny for a start, but it's well worth it! :)

  21. Lynda - You mean the er's and um's and 'nice weather we're having''s? Yes - great advice!

    EC and Nutschell - So glad you found it helpful! :-)

    Beth - Reading out loud is excellent advice. It highlights the awkward spots so well.

  22. Great example and thanks for the tips. I like to keep tags simple.

  23. Medeia - me too! I think I've come a long way with my dialogue tags. They used to be really bad! :)

  24. Good guidelines, Natalie. Writing dialogue that sounds natural is difficult.

    Hi, Jemi!

  25. Carol - you're right! We can't write like we normally speak - that would be way too dull! :)

  26. Dialog is so much harder than it seems - at least it is for me. I agree with all your tips, and your book sounds very exciting! Congrats! :-)

  27. Lexa - exactly! Dialogue should be easy - we talk evey day, but it's so much harder than that!

  28. Good dialog is hugely important and I agree with what Natalie has to say about it. I also really liked her sample. Lots of bitter snap in that exchange.

  29. Lee - exactly! Snappy dialogue is a blast to read and write! :)

  30. Great example from your own writing. So much said in so few words!

  31. MP - exactly! It's a great snippet! :)

  32. I loved the witty/snappy dialogue and THE SEVEN DAY TARGET! It hooked me in as a reader and kept me engrossed till the last page!

    COngrats Natalie on such a sparkling debut!

    Thanks for hosting Natalie, Jemi!

  33. You're very welcome Nas - it's been a lot of fun!! :)