Monday, April 11, 2016

Anne Shirley Says 'Wassup, Marilla?'

I eavesdrop on conversations. Like the two girls sitting behind me right now.

“I know, I like totally backed into pole. That thing on the bottom that runs across the car was like so smashed up, and my boyfriend didn’t even warn me I was going to hit it. I mean, what good is he if he’s just sitting there and doesn’t even say a word?”
“Chah, I know, boyfriends aren’t what they used to be.”
“I just don’t know where this is all going with him, if he’s going to be so…inattentive.” 
“Chah, I know. Good word, inattentive.” 
“I feel like I do all the work, you know, and he just sits there, not warning me of anything.”

The two guys sit across the aisle. 
Quiet for five seconds or ten minutes, then, “Dude, check it out.” He motions with his shoulder out the window. A young blond pulls up in a yellow Camaro.
“Gas mileage?”
“Ten, sometimes fifteen per mile.”
“My cousin Johnny was working on his brakes once, and saw a blah blah blah blah….”
I drummed the conversation out.

Writing preachers proclaim dialogue is not how people speak in real life but how we wish we could speak.

That’s cool, I guess. But I’ve got to tell you, more important than sounding like characters who have stepped off the set of an Errol Flynn movie is this—content is king. Writers bore readers all the time with gorgeous dialogue.

Here’s the key: Know your reader.

Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt doesn’t pull his buddy aside to talk about a growing feeling of loneliness that’s been haunting him since raising the Titanic and now he’s thinking of quitting because he’s found himself in a love triangle and can’t decide which girl to chose because they’re opposites and here’s how they’re different, and he’s getting away to a beach to think because he needs to clear his mind, and hey, buddy, want to split a cinnamon roll and get a London Fog half caff soy half sweet? Readers of action simply don’t care.

Equally off-putting would be Anne Shirley saying, ‘Wassup, Marilla?’ As a reader, I’m pleading with Anne to chatter for pages, and I’m loving EVERY WORD.

Simply put, when I pick up a romance—which I do often believe it or not—men don’t sound like men. I don’t want them to. Even as a male myself, I’m trying to escape the mindless facts that connect to nothing but are sometimes interesting, depending on how smart or good-looking he is. Instead, I’m reading dialogue that directly touches on his relationships….and I’m okay with that. I know the readers.

And when I pick up an action book, I’m looking for info dumps on red algae and how it’s destroying the world, and which scientist the hero is going to have to defend so she can save the world and they hook up for two pages and boom...romance done.

Keep in mind as you write dialogue that content is king, and to make your work sing, know your reader. 

Hey, while you're here, want to split a gluten free maple bacon cinnamon roll with black iced tea half sweet peach and vanilla?
Peter Leavell is an award winning historical fiction author. He and his family research together, creating magnificent adventures. Catch up with him on his website at, or friend him on Facebook: 
Peter R. Leavell.


  1. You really caught my eye with your title! Your post is not only a great reminder to write your genre, but consider the differences in gender as well.

    Great post, Peter!

  2. Thanks for another insightful post, Peter. I think writing male dialogue is a challenge for female writers. (Aren't most romance authors women?) But you're right, dialogue in a romance should focus on relationship. And perhaps not so much about how hot a car is and what kind of gas mileage it gets. ;) Write on!

    1. I'm finding when reading romance, I don't WANT the men to sound real. Ha!

  3. Dude, check it out. Bacon. Flip ya for it?


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