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Writing Techniques for Better Dialogue
Episode 418th November 2022 • Writing Break • America's Editor
00:00:00 00:17:33

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This episode provides writing tips for better dialogue, an update on the Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster merger, thoughts about gatekeeping in publishing, and more.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

"Into The Night" by Enzo Orefice

"Cold Mornings, Slow Motion" by Humans Win

"Blow Off Some Steam" by Ben Bostick

"Stay Right There" by Humans Win

"Cozy By The Fireside" by Jon Presstone


Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

Dee Alvis:

Writing Break is the winner of two silver Davey Awards in the categories of General Advice and Best Writing.

This makes 5 awards this year for Writing Break. Congratulations once again to America's Editor and the team at Allon Media.

Rosemi Mederos:

Well, well, well, it was not a fluke. You do have good taste in podcasts.

Named after David of David and Goliath fame, “The annual International Davey Awards honors the achievements of the ‘Creative Davids’ who derive their strength from big ideas, rather than stratospheric budgets.” Not that I would turn away a stratospheric budget, mind you. Just imagine the writing retreats I could host!

So, we received two more awards this year, including another award for writing. Tell your friends you know a winner when you hear one.

All right, enough fanfare, let’s get to work. First off, let’s get a giant mug of something. The Penguin Random House–Simon and Schuster merger has been blocked, so you know we have to talk about that.

The bookstore we’re visiting today has a Garden Cafe. In addition to coffee, wine, and beer, they have some seriously delicious breakfast and lunch options, and they’re nearing peak fall foliage right now, so let’s stroll on over.

We are at Full Circle Books, Oklahoma’s largest and oldest independent bookstore, located in Oklahoma City. “The bookstore's ambiance and charm are defined by its 13-foot oak bookcases with rolling ladders, wood-burning fireplaces, and comfortable seating arrangements.” With a mix of classical, jazz, and folk music playing throughout the store and a staff of genuine readers and book lovers, this store has everything you could want in a neighborhood bookstore.

Full Circle Books was recommended to me by a client working on his debut novel. I would say his name, but it’s a pen name, and since it’s a debut novel, I wouldn’t want to say it and have someone steal it. It is a cool pseudonym.

So, I’ll just say thank you, and I hope those rewrites are going well.

Now, let’s huddle together in the Garden Cafe to discuss today’s publishing news.

Love is in the air. Harlequin Trade Publishing, which is owned by HarperCollins, is renaming its main romance imprint. HQN Books will now be called Canary Street Press. The name was inspired by the historic downtown Toronto Canary District.

Canary Street Press will still be a romance imprint, and now it will publish stories that are more inclusive than before and that “represent everyone's happy ever after."

They are looking to add new and fresh voices. Perhaps yours will be one of them.

ilaka was named winner of the:

Neil MacGregor, British historian and chair of the 2022 judges, said “What the judges particularly admired and enjoyed in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida was the ambition of its scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques. This is a metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir that dissolves the boundaries not just of different genres, but of life and death, body and spirit, east and west.”

And now, the big story. A federal judge blocked the Penguin Random House–Simon and Schuster merger. The US Department of Justice is happy. The Authors Guild is happy. Even Stephen King is happy.

Me? I don’t care because the future of publishing is self-publishing. But let’s get into it.

The judge stated the following: "Upon review of the extensive record and careful consideration of the parties’ arguments, the Court finds that the United States has shown that 'the effect of [the proposed merger] may be to substantially lessen competition' in the market for the U.S. publishing rights to anticipated top-selling books.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Penguin Random House is seeking an appeal but they need to make sure that Simon & Schuster is up for the fight. Here’s what’s going on there.

Penguin’s parent company is the German media group Bertelsmann, and Simon & Schuster’s parent company is the American media group Paramount Global.

Under the terms of their agreement, “Bertelsmann agreed it would pay Paramount a termination fee of $200 million if the acquisition was ‘completely prohibited or if the termination date is reached.’”

The termination date is November 21st.

If Paramount decides to walk away from the deal, they’ll get $200 million, and they’ll just put Simon & Schuster up for sale again. But no other interested party can hit that $2.18 billion dollars in cash offered by Penguin Random House.

So now Bertlesmann is doing all it can to get Paramount to continue pursuing the merger.

Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle was on stage at the Sharjah International Book Fair just nine hours after learning that the proposed acquisition was blocked. So, of course, they had to ask him for his thoughts. He said that the ruling was political and counter to the interests of the United States because the merger would mean that his company would pay more taxes.

Dohle said the merger would have represented less than 20% of the overall book market, and that “Amazon represents more than 50% of the retail market.”

Dohle’s court testimony in August revealed his dissatisfaction in Penguin Random House’s path, and during the book event last week, he praised the success of Amazon, whose ecommerce infrastructure allowed the book business to thrive during the pandemic. “He also implied that Amazon empowered independent publishers by giving them a retail platform where books were presented the same as PRH’s titles, suggesting that Amazon provided everyone with a level playing field.”

Have I read too many books, or does Dohle sound like a captain ready to abandon ship?

As far as I can tell, if Amazon’s setup allowed the book business to thrive during the pandemic, it’s because of independent authors and readers.

Now, let’s use the sofa in front of one of the three fireplaces in this bookstore for today’s Overthinking Couch to discuss gatekeeping in publishing.

The New York Times reported that blocking the Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster merger provides little clarity to the publishing industry, which is true, but if you remember, this is an antitrust case, which means that the judge ruled with all corporations in mind, not just publishing houses.

If Amazon actually represents 50% of the book market, that means independent authors are poised to take over publishing.

For so long publishing kept most groups out, letting certain groups in only when there was a guaranteed megaprofit. It wasn’t even enough to walk, talk, and look like other authors. You also had to know someone on the inside in order to get published. And you still need a literary agent before you can even begin to make contact with a high-profile publisher.

The fact that Big 5 publishing executives drop their jaws at Amazon’s publishing success is aggravating but not surprising. What we call a hybrid press these days used to be called a vanity press. Yes, vanity. Because believing in yourself was vain, apparently.

Humans have been telling each other stories for at least 36,000 years. It’s what we do. If you’re interested, check the show notes for an article about the drawing found in the Chauvet cave in France, which tells the story of a volcano eruption. That’s the oldest representation of storytelling we’ve found so far.

So, after at least 36,000 years of telling each other stories, some publishing executives are astounded that people are willing to buy books that didn’t pass through their ivory towers. And they’re even more surprised to learn that there are a lot of good self-published books out there. After refusing to level the playing field, should publishing houses really be surprised that authors have found a new place to compete?

Publishers can keep swinging on those rusty, vine-covered gates if they want, but they’re going to find fewer and fewer authors drawing near.

It’s time to stroll around the shop and check out an independent author.

In addition to being a marvelous bookstore, Full Circle also owns Full Circle Press, which publishes books about Oklahoma. My favorite from their line up is Sarge: The Veteran’s Best Friend, written by John Otto & Payton Otto and illustrated by Charlotte Strickland. This children’s book is a true story about a dog named Sarge. Sarge is a terrier mix, who went from being abandoned and scared of people to serving as a beloved companion at the Norman Veteran's Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Check the show notes to watch a YouTube video of the real-life Sarge in action.

Now, let’s return to our spot by the fireplace to discuss tips for writing better dialogue.

We’re conversing about conversation today. Good dialogue is a slippery eel. (What is with all the analogies today?) Sometimes writers who are pretty good at writing dialogue learn some dialogue techniques and promptly lose touch with their natural talent.

Oh, for the love of Hank Aaron, here comes a baseball analogy. Stay with me here.

During the Homerun Derby, the best Major League Baseball batters compete to see who can hit the most home runs. It’s a real treat. But participating in the Homerun Derby can mess with some batters’ swing. There’s something about focusing too much on doing just one thing—in this case, hitting the ball out of the park—that can make it hard to get back into the swing of things during the regular season.

In the same way, I think some writers who learn dialogue techniques end up struggling to find their natural rhythm. They become so focused on applying these techniques that they lose touch with their own writing style.

And of course, there’s the elephant in the room, which is that some famous authors used little dialogue. That’s not just talent, though. That’s being fortunate enough to have what the people want when they want it. I bet you could name some classics that would never get traditionally published today.

The worst dialogue you can write is unnecessary dialogue. Dialogue serves many purposes:

It creates conflict, especially when there’s sharp dialogue between two characters.

It conveys emotion.

It advances the plot.

It sets the scene.

It develops the characters; and

It replaces exposition.

Dialogue is a good way to “show” rather than “tell” the story. It’s also a great way to differentiate between characters. Everyone’s word choice and speech pattern is unique, and that should be reflected in your writing. Episode 4 talks more about this.

When writing your dialogue, you’re going to want to keep speeches short. Once you’re sure of your writing talent, you can play around with speech length. Reading books in your genre will help you get a sense of what your speech length should be. For example, fantasy tends to lend itself to long speeches from time to time because the audience is willing to read it. Still, don’t overdo it and don’t force it.

Incorporate beats and nonverbal communication, such as small gestures or sounds, you know, shrugs, nods, laughs. These help you manage the pace of your story, as do stage actions that let us know where the characters are in the scene and what they’re doing as they either speak with or listen to other characters.

You can also play around with broken dialogue. This is one that authors overdo all the time, so go easy.

Then there’s dialect and accent. This can be annoying and even insulting if there's too much, if it doesn’t sound natural, or if it doesn’t really fit the character. Do you know how many authors write characters who are supposed to be Irish, but the authors only bother to work in Irish curse words and insults? Too many. This also happens a lot to Scottish and British characters. C’mon, people.

And then there are the books that take place in southern parts of the United States, but the only characters with deep southern accents are the mean ones. It’s just awful.

Interior monologue can also help move the story along and give the reader deeper insights into a character’s thoughts and feelings in a simple way.

The most important thing is to make sure each line of dialogue moves the plot forward in a meaningful way.

Next week we’re going to talk about dialogue tags and attributions. Keep writing and thanks for listening. You deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at or contact us at




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