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How to Use Dialogue in Creative Writing

When it comes to literary analysis, critical theory, and creative writing courses, many students and teachers are likely to bring up the importance of dialogue.

Put simply, dialogue is the speaking characters in a story or novel. It makes up a substantial portion of any narrative, carrying both spoken words and non-verbal communication (i.e. facial expressions, body language, and the like).

Depending on the context and purpose of your story, you might want to include specific types of dialogue. For example, if your narrative focuses on an inner dialogue between a group of characters, you might want to include some monologue. But if you’re writing a science fiction novel concerning outer space, you might want to include more dialogue between characters.

Importance Of Dialogue In Creative Writing

When done well, dialogue can add a great deal to the story and characters. In film, it can even carry the whole story. Consider the following examples:

King Kong

For a while, let’s play a game. Fake news stories are emerging online about a supposed King Kong statue that’s sparking hysteria in Hong Kong. All of this is made up, but if you’re reading this, I assume you’re already familiar with the premise. As the story goes, an artist in Hong Kong named Ka Chun decided to create a sculpture of the legendary ape. Unfortunately, he got a little too ambitious. The statue is eleven feet tall, weighing in at a hefty three-hundred pounds. Needless to say, it’s causing a bit of an uproar, prompting the government to intervene. The statue has been sitting in a corner for several weeks now, and although the rumors have died down, the fear and anxiety it originally caused continues to resonate.

Life Of Pi

Speaking of resonating, let’s fast forward to Life Of Pi. Based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Yann Martel, the movie follows the journey of Pi (Suraiya), a young boy who finds himself stranded on a boat with an orca (a type of whale). The two animals share an unlikely friendship, and along with a hyena (an African hunting mammal), Pi must find a way to survive in a world that’s constantly rocking and swaying underneath them.

Star Wars

One of the most important and defining movies of all time is Star Wars. To put it simply, without the dialogue in Star Wars, we wouldn’t have the rest of the movies. There are countless instances in which dialogue drives the story. From Princess Leia’s pleas to Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope to the humorous banter between Yoda and Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, the film relies on the characters’ conversations to move the plot along.


Another defining movie of all time is Casablanca. As the title suggests, the film is set in Casablanca, the capital of Morocco. It follows the story of a group of people who, for various reasons, end up in the city. As the story goes, Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) is a famous American novelist who is working on a project to interview people in their hometowns. In the course of his research, he meets a variety of people, including a young woman named Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman). Together, they embark on a journey that will change their lives forever.


Speaking of journeys, let’s move to Shakespeare. Back in the day, Shakespeare was the King of Dialogue. Seriously. While much of the plays are based on historical events and figures, many of the tales are framed around conversations between characters. These conversations help the audience understand the motivations of the characters and, more importantly, reveal the underlying themes and ideas that drive the narrative. For example, in Julius Caesar, one of the first plays ever written (or at least the first that survived), Shakespeare uses his dialogue to show the audience the character of Caesar. Essentially, the playwright wanted his audience to see what makes the character tick.

The Godfather

One of the most influential mafia movies of all time is The Godfather. Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the film focuses on a young man named Michael Corleone (played by Marlon Brando), who seeks to ascend the ranks of the Italian mob. Naturally, he clashes with his father (played by Al Pacino), the patriarch of the Corleone clan. Along the way, Michael falls in love with an artist named Kay (played by Katharine Hepburn). However, their relationship is complicated by Michael’s ambition and Kay’s socialite lifestyle.

The Shawshank Redemption

Speaking of socialites, let’s fast forward to The Shawshank Redemption. Set in the early 1900s, it is the story of Frank (played by Tim Robbins), a man who finds himself in prison after being falsely accused of murdering a guard. While in prison, he befriends another inmate, named Andy (played by Matt Damon). Together, they embark on a scheme to escape from Shawshank Prison.

Dazed And Confused

Now, we’re coming to the present. One of my favorite films from the past decade is Dazed And Confused. In it, a high school senior named James (played by Matthew McConaughey) explores the murky waters of young adult life, as he grapples with the challenges presented by his overprotective mother (played by Anne Bobby), his scheming stepfather (played by Richard Jenkins), and his social ineptitude.

Throughout the film, James explores the confusing and contradictory world of adulthood, as he tries to find his place in the scheme of things. His attempts to assert himself often lead to confrontations and absurd situations. But at the same time, the film offers a lighthearted look at the young adult experience, as he encounters the attractive, free-spirited Allison (played by Charlize Theron). Ultimately, Dazed And Confused is a film about coming of age, identity, and finding your place in the world.

Often, when teaching creative writing, I’ll ask students to choose a classic work of literature and then rewrite it using only dialogue. It’s often difficult to write dialogue that’s convincing and entertaining. It requires practice.

Types Of Dialogue In Creative Writing

Depending on the context and purpose of your story, you might want to include specific types of dialogue. For example, if your narrative focuses on an inner dialogue between a group of characters, you might want to include some monologue. But if you’re writing a science fiction novel concerning outer space, you might want to include more dialogue between characters.

Also, since you’re likely to encounter dialogue in creative writing, it is worthwhile to examine the different types of dialogue in detail.


When speaking with the characters in your story, one option is to have them speak only to you. This is known as a monologue, and it can be a very effective tool in fiction. If you decide to use a monologue, you should probably do so in the first person. That is, speak as though you’re speaking directly to the audience, as though you’re answering questions. Never, ever use a third-person monologue. In addition to being boring, it can make the character seem disjointed, as if the dialogue is not connected to the rest of the story.

Free-Form Dialogue

Often, when reading or watching films, we don’t know exactly what kind of dialogue is being used because the characters’ lips aren’t moving. This is known as “free-form” dialogue, and it’s where most of the funniness comes from in movies. For example, when Kevin Costner’s character in Dazed And Confused is being harassed by a group of football players, he exclaims, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s your problem?!” One of the guys responds, “Yeah, you’re a fagelbinder. What are you doing hanging around a bunch of football players? You’re going to get us kicked off the team.” To which Costner’s character responds, “Yeah, I don’t give a shit. Who cares about football? You can’t compare movies to football. That’s like comparing Picasso’s paintings to football.” And the conversation continues from there. Basically, free-form dialogue provides the reader or viewer with scenes that are essentially verbal comedies.