Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I wrote this blog a few weeks ago. This is an updated version, the original is posted on

A friend of mine slipped at a Cub Scout camp in August and broke both of his elbows. On a recent Sunday morning, my house smoke alarms went off at 3:30 a.m., 4:00 a.m., and 4:15 a.m. My son found a live bat hanging on the wall of his coworker’s cubicle. An Amber Alert was sent out and then cancelled because four children, who were missing for 11 hours, were found safe at their grandmother’s house.

Would these true events seem real if you read them in a book?

The first full length novel I wrote was historical fiction based on a family story. I wrote the book in conjunction with a class I was taking. I plotted and planned the book and followed the true life events. When I finished the first draft, I hated it. The story didn’t feel real.

Have you ever had that problem?

Ever tried to write dialogue the way people speak?

I was a legal secretary for seven years and on occasion I transcribed recorded conversations. People don’t speak in full sentences. They interrupt each other. They ramble. They use slang. They use poor grammar. They speak at the same time. It is hard to understand conversations.

Writing exactly as people speak doesn’t work in fiction.

That doesn’t mean that you must write dialogue with perfect grammar or complete sentences. That wouldn’t work either. You can have a character ask a question that no one answers. You can use poor grammar to set a character apart from others. You can use incomplete sentences. In fact, you could probably break every rule of good grammar and good conversation—IF there is a reason and IF you do it in a way that is readable.

The best rule I know for writing dialogue, is to make your characters sound real while keeping the language so readers can follow who is speaking and understand what is happening.

So what rules for writing dialogue do you use?

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