Dialogue with Gloria Kempton

“You want to use dialogue to keep reminding the reader just how desperate your character is to achieve her goal.”

” Every scene of dialogue, in some way, needs to move the story conflict forward. We need to be in a different place at the end of a scene of dialogue than we were at the beginning. The situation should grow continually worse every time our characters open their mouths to talk to one another…Our supporting characters keep reminding our protagonist of his goal, of where he’s headed on the Hero’s Journey.”

“Dialogue’s purpose, and there is no exception to this, is to create tension in the present and build suspense for what’s to come. As a fiction writer, you want to remember this. No matter what kind of scene you’re writing, no matter the genre, tension and suspense must be included, most often at the core of the scene.”

“As storytellers, we have a number of writing tools at our disposal – narrative, action, description, and dialogue, to name a few. When you’re considering how to pace a story, description and narration will move it slowly, steadily, and easily along. Action and dialogue will speed up – dialogue even more than action. When characters start talking, the story starts moving. Usually. Dialogue is a way to control the pace of our stories.”

Just for Fun

“Take a notebook and go to the mall or a park or a cafe and eavesdrop on a conversation. Chances are, it will be pretty mundane, as is. Now write a scene of dialogue, giving the conversation you just heard a purpose.”


Gloria Kempton makes a many excellent points in her book on dialogue. Each scene of dialogue should push the story forward and reveal something new. The tension should rise as the story moves forward. The speed of dialogue often reflects the speed of action, which is why dialogue can control the pacing. Having changes in the pacing (or energy of the scene), as in music, is important in keeping the story interesting.

I love Kempton’s idea for eavesdropping, writing a scene inspired from the conversation, and giving the scene purpose. It seems like it would make for a fun assignment – as long as the eavesdropping wasn’t illegal or inappropriate.

Works Cited

Kempton, Gloria. Write Great Fiction: Dialogue. Cincinnati: Writers Digest Books, 2004.

Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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