Writing the Midwest: On crafting realistic dialogue


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“Writing the Midwest” is a recurring series featuring writing advice from today’s most prolific authors. Whether it’s dealing with writer’s block, knowing when a piece is finished, or how and where to find inspiration, we’re delighted to present to you the very best guidance to help you and your writing. You can find links to the authors’ full interviews below.

On crafting realistic dialogue:

Matt Young: Understanding passive aggression has also helped me harness sarcasm and wit and snappy dialogue. It’s also a good way to build tension and complicated characters. I’m sure the way I think and write and the words I use and the images I focus on are all informed by how and where I grew up in some way as well.

Sophfronia Scott: When I write fiction it’s like I’m planting seeds. I have some sense of what I’m planting and in the writing process I see what grows and how it grows. I know, for example, that I must write a dialogue scene between two characters. I approach that work knowing some of what they will say to each other but leaving room for surprises as well. All this discovery can take place within one writing session.

Amanda Kabak: I think of the inevitable gulf between what we think and what we do, what we intend and what actually happens. I write about people who want to be quality human beings but who make decisions that undermine themselves and hurt other people. I drive through dialog past what I intend to where someone says something wholly unanticipated and game-changing. And I get it wrong for about twelve drafts (during which time I think I get it right several times before realizing I’m deluded) until I find the contradictions and idiosyncrasies that make characters fully-realized people. Once that’s in place, when they interact with each other, those interactions will ring true.


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