How to Write Dazzling Dialogue by James Scott Bell



You know it when you hear it—dialogue that sparkles on the page and practically begs to be read out loud. Dialogue by people like Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, and Richard A. Thompson. I love clever dialogue and eagerly read anything that can tell me how to write it better.

HOW TO WRITE DAZZLING DIALOGUE points out the numerous ways that dialogue can go wrong and gives a brief explanation about why it’s a problem. Bell also gives examples of good dialogue, so we can see the difference. The examples are from well-known books, plays, and movies, and he is great at picking out excerpts that illustrate his points. Bell shows why characters in agreement make for boring dialogue (and boring books), how to handle exposition in dialogue, and how to handle tricky dialect.

Bell offers exercises to try, some of them quite unexpected. For example, try having a character say the exact opposite of what he should say, or insert a random line of dialogue from another book and see where it goes. Not all of these exercises will end up in the final draft, but some of them might.

However, Bell doesn’t discuss any of the techniques in depth and only gives a single example for each. Although he uses first-rate examples, he doesn’t really explain why they work. He’s very good at pointing out beginner mistakes, but misses some of the more subtle problems that can creep into dialogue. HOW TO WRITE DAZZLING DIALOGUE will teach you how to write competent dialogue—good enough to keep you out of the slush pile—but probably won’t teach you how to write the sparkling dialogue readers love.




rating: 3 stars



This book is best for: beginning writers


I recommend this book or Writing Vivid Dialogue by Rayne Hall

2 thoughts on “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue by James Scott Bell

  1. I have to ask, do you think dazzling dialog is something that can be really and truly taught? Or is it just – there?

    • That is a good question–one I asked myself over and over again while reading Bell’s book and writing this review. Maybe you just have to have an ear for dialogue?

      But in all fairness, if Bell is writing a how-to book, then his premise is that good dialogue can be taught. I feel like he did a good job explaining the most common pitfalls, but I was hoping for something a bit more than that.

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