Rick Riordan’s Five Tips on Writing Dialogue

**Pulled from The Online World of Rick Riordan**


Dialogue is arguably the hardest thing to do well in narrative writing. Below are some points to consider:


Rick’s top five tips on DIALOGUE




5. No two characters should sound the same.

You should be able to open to any page, read a piece of dialogue, and know which character is speaking, simply from the voice. Give each character his or her own style by using dialect (but keep it light), favorite colloquialisms, or speech patterns.


4. Avoid authorial intrusion.

Leave your characters alone and let them talk. Avoid descriptors or padding when possible. Only insert tags when: a. you need to delineate the speakers, in which case do it as simply as possible, i.e. John said.; b. you want to deliberately slow down the pace to give a sense of scene, or convey unspoken information; c. you have a first person narrator who is filtering the dialogue through his or her thoughts.


3. Compress dialogue.

Dialogue often sounds more realistic if the sentences are compressed and abridged. Pick only the critical parts of the sentences and clip the rest. Try to cut anything that might be a throw-away line.  Instead of: “Okay. That’s a good point. But there’s something I’ve been thinking. Do you think Bobby really went home last night? I don’t know,”  it might be enough to say, “You think Bobby really went home?”  This gets to the point without drowning in unneeded words.


2. Show only the dialogue needs to be shown.

 Realistic dialogue is important, but don’t make it mundane. Zoom to the part of the conversation you want the readers to hear.  Do not repeat information the reader already knows. When Character A must retell part of the story for the benefit of Character B, simply say, I caught him up on what had happened since yesterday. Fast-forward to the part that is the most interesting.


1.  Use dialogue to display conflict, not impart information to the reader.

Too often, dialogue is used as a way to let the readers get information the author thinks they need. The speakers end up having a conversation with the audience rather than each other. This is called a “false triangle” problem, because the speakers are making the reader a third party to their conversation. In every dialogue, the speakers should have opposing agendas. They do not want the same thing out of the conversation. Their words should reveal their character, not just backstory.


From Wikipedia:

Richard Russell “Rick” Riordan (/ˈraɪərˌdɛn/), Jr. (born June 5, 1964) is an American author best known for writing the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. He also wrote the Tres Navarre mystery series for adults and helped to edit Demigods and Monsters, a collection of essays on the topic of his Percy Jackson series. He helped develop the ten books in The 39 Clues series, published by Scholastic Corporation, and wrote the first book in the series, The Maze of Bones. He recently completed a trilogy that focuses on Egyptian mythology, The Kane Chronicles, and he has also written three books on The Heroes of Olympus, which is the sequel to the Percy Jackson series and focuses on Greek and Roman mythology.


2 thoughts on “Rick Riordan’s Five Tips on Writing Dialogue

  1. I deem t5hese instructions absolutely corrupt and inacceptable. I love authorial intrusion and sophisticated speech as a reader, and so none of your commandments will ever be able to deter me from using authorial intrusions and deliberately stilted dialogue as a writer.

  2. Pingback: author sites to read when you want to give up – Reading through the Night

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