Dialogue is one of the most important elements of your short story or novel. Believable dialogue will make your characters three-dimensional, relatable, and real. At Writer’s Relief, we know readers want to identify with your characters or to recognize the realistic people you’re creating—whether they love them or hate them!
For a playwright, effective dialogue is crucial. In a play, dialogue is more than conversation: It must also show the character’s motivation and reveal plot details.
Celebrate World Theatre Day by reading the plays listed here for excellent examples of how to improve the dialogue in your short stories or novels with realism, dialect, and subtext.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh
Dialect—any dialect—can be difficult to capture in dialogue without seeming forced or inauthentic. Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy about the contentious relationship between a mother and daughter in rural Ireland features dialogue that makes strong, effective use of Irish dialect.
Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker
A trademark of Annie Baker’s playwriting is her unerring ear for dialogue that features the imperfections of everyday speech habits (making great use of “like” or “um”). This Obie Award-winning play tells the comedic and poignant story of a group of people who come together for an acting class. Bringing together characters from all walks of life, Baker manages to make each voice distinct and believable.
Closer by Patrick Marber
It should come as no surprise that former stand-up comedian Patrick Marber writes such witty dialogue. What’s surprising is how much subtext he’s able to pack into his words. His play Closer offers clever, brisk dialogue that, under the surface, plunges into the intricate complexities of sex, lust, and identity. The play was also adapted by Marber into a 2004 film starring Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, and Jude Law.
Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris
Dialogue can be messy. People talk over one another, fumble for the right word, and talk around the real subject at hand. This approach to dialogue is used expertly by Bruce Norris in his Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning comedy about race relations in 1959 and 2009 America. Norris’s characters dance around the subject of race and other incendiary and controversial topics with sharp and insightful dialogue.
4000 Miles by Amy Herzog
Amy Herzog’s touching dramedy about the relationship between twenty-something drifter Leo and his feisty grandmother Vera is an excellent example of using voice in dialogue. Leo and Vera are about as different as two people can possibly be, and yet Herzog manages to make these two different voices distinct and realistic. She also uses their words to brilliantly set up moments of hilarious comedy and poignant drama.
Seminar by Theresa Rebeck
Theresa Rebeck, a playwright known for her cutting and incisive dialogue, is at her sharpest with this comedy about a writing seminar led by a hilariously acerbic instructor. Rebeck manages to explore contentious topics such as class, privilege, and what it takes to get ahead, and does so with some fantastically funny dialogue.
QUESTION: Which play do you think has the best example of great dialogue?
Ever wonder why writers don’t get paid to publish in literary journals? Writer’s Relief investigated. This article by literary magazine editor M.R. Branwen explains how the fiscal outlook for literary magazines might be worse than ever before:
In the age of the Internet, people are loath to pay for content — in print or online. The decline of the print publishing industry and the constant near-collapse of the news industry has seen publishers of all stripes frantic to monetize a readership that continues to dodge online advertising and refuses to pay for any form of subscription.
A writing residency is the trip of a lifetime for many creative writers. From far-flung fantasy getaways to rugged, rustic cabins, writing retreats offer you an opportunity to focus on your work-in-progress in an inspiring setting. Some writing residencies are competitive and come with stipends and lots of bragging rights; others are simply rent-a-room options that give precedence (or discounts) to writers and creative types. Is a writing retreat for you? Take this self-test from Writer’s Relief to find out!
Self-Test: Is It Worth Your Time To Attend A Writing Residency Or Writer’s Retreat?
Is it possible for you to sneak away from your life for a while?
A. No problem: My obligations to work and family are flexible.
B. I could get away for a short trip, though it would take some finagling.
C. No way. Too many people need me at work and home.
How do you handle solitude and being away from loved ones?
A. Solitude is my middle name. And my loved ones get that I need away time.
B. It’s great for a while, but too much time alone puts me in a creative slump.
C. I like being alone to write sometimes, but without my “nears and dears,” my creative batteries run low.
How deep are your pockets when it comes to investing in your writing career?
A. To make an omelet, you’ve got to crack a few eggs (or a few thousand).
B. I could make a financial sacrifice in order to participate in a residency—even if it’s hard.
C. Scholarships, please! There’s really no room in my budget for much beyond the essentials.
Do you have “big,” specific writing goals that would be well served by copious amounts of alone-time (like a planned novel or a story/poetry collection) that you can set out for judges to see?
A. Yes, I’ve got a specific goal in mind—I just need the time to be able to do it.
B. Sort of. I could see myself tackling a “big” writing project but also keeping busy with other things.
C. I’m not really working toward anything particular at this moment.
If you picked mostly A: Start picking out residencies to apply for! You’re in a good position to make the most of the advantages that a writing residency has to offer! Brush off your best manuscript pages and prepare to start submitting them to the residencies of your dreams.
If you picked mostly B:You may have some obstacles, but you can still make it work! Even though you’re somewhat encumbered by life’s responsibilities, you’re still in a great position to get yourself some butt-in-chair time at an intensive residency. If too much solitude stifles more than inspires, consider applying to short-term residencies rather than months-long retreats. Making the time/money outlay to sneak away to a writing retreat might pay big dividends for your future career.
If you picked mostly C: Don’t give up on the idea! You might not think you’re a good candidate for a writer’s retreat, but don’t give up hope. Writing retreats exist to help people just like you! If your submission is strong or you’re willing to lend a hand around the facilities to offset costs, you might just earn yourself a free (or nearly free) ride. Consider finding a retreat that’s close to home to avoid airfare. And if work/family obligations hold you back, apply to short-term residencies that will let you get away for a weekend rather than for a year. You don’t know unless you try!
Bibliophiles and theatergoers everywhere know there’s something disconcerting about the Ides of March (or March 15th), thanks to William Shakespeare. But what exactly are the Ides of March? Writer’s Relief found the details in this article on History.com:
You may remember the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar to “Beware the ides of March,” but the term didn’t originate with William Shakespeare.
As the home of the Blarney stone, Ireland has produced some of the greatest talkers—and writers!—over the centuries. To celebrate Irish History Month and St. Patrick’s Day, Writer’s Relief has created a list of our favorite books by Irish authors that deserve some room on your bookshelf!
Must-Read Books By Irish Authors
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a remarkable work of imagination. It’s the story of a beautiful young man who sacrifices his soul in search of eternal youth. The book met with dreadful reviews when it was first published and was considered offensive to public morality; after Wilde’s death, the book quickly became a classic and a symbol of its era.
First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula became a forerunner of the Gothic horror story—and set the stage for virtually all vampire fiction to come. This is a dark, classic tale of good versus evil as Professor Abraham Van Helsing tries to end Dracula’s reign of terror.
The Gathering by Anne Enright
Anne Enright’s The Gathering was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and is the author’s fourth novel. The book follows a woman who, upon her alcoholic brother’s suicide, attempts to make sense of his death and, ultimately, come to terms with the uncomfortable truths behind her family’s troubled history.
Every Single Minute by Hugo Hamilton
Hugo Hamilton’s novel pays tribute to fellow Irish journalist and writer Nuala O’Faolain, with whom Hamilton spent two days in Berlin. She died a week after their return; Every Single Minute is based on this true story of great friendship.
The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien
Edna O’Brien’s first novel, The Country Girls, takes place in a socially repressive, Catholic, postwar society, and the book was heavily censored by Irish authorities for its discussions of sexuality. O’Brien, often called the grand dame of Irish literature, is considered a powerful voice for women’s issues.
Brooklyn—a heartbreaking, achingly beautiful story—won an O. Henry Award in 2006. Colm Tóibín’s sixth novel is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, and follows a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey, as she tries to make a new life for herself in America.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
This National Book Award Winner by Colum McCann was inspired by Philippe Petit’s daring high-wire stunt in August 1974, where the tight-rope walker nimbly darted between the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan, a quarter of a mile high. The novel paints a rich and intricate portrait of New York City and its people.
Ladies’ Night at Finbar’s Hotel by seven authors
For something a little different, Ladies’ Night at Finbar’s Hotel is a collection of stories by seven of Ireland’s finest modern female authors—where each chapter takes place in a different room of the Finbar Hotel in Dublin. The stories are connected, and the reader must guess who authored each chapter—Maeve Binchy, Clare Boylan, Anne Haverty, Kate O’Riordan, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Emma Donoghue, or Deirdre Purcell!
Question: What is your favorite book by an Irish author?
Every writer knows the importance of getting feedback on your work—but it’s also a complicated matter. On the one hand, if a critique partner misunderstands or misconstrues, the resulting critique can be devastating. On the other hand, if a reader adores what you’ve written, it can be easy to lapse into complacency. Even a spot-on critique can completely upend your entire POV as a writer. If you’re routinely getting feedback on your writing (and we hope you are!), Writer’s Relief has the dos and don’ts you need to know:
DO: How To Make The Most Of Creative Writing Critique
Do take notes. Written notes will keep you from forgetting details later on. Plus, time can play games with your memory. If there’s any chance you might inadvertently “reinterpret” a critique later on, your written notes will remind you of the original expression.
Do listen with an open mind. It’s easy to build walls—okay, forty-foot-high ramparts—around ourselves to keep out the truth of a critique. But then you gain nothing from the feedback. Instead, truly listen to what others have to say. Welcome feedback for what it yields: an opportunity to grow.
Do stand up for yourself if you’re being disrespected. No critique should feel like standing before a firing squad. If you feel a critique has turned into a personal attack, don’t hesitate to step away or stop the proceedings. A writer’s process is sometimes a fragile thing, and you’re not wrong to protect your muse from abuse.
Do say thank you. No matter how completely off base your critique partners may be, thank them genuinely—one writer to another—for their honesty and their thoughtfulness. Hopefully, they’ll do the same when it’s your turn to offer a critique.
DON’T: What You Shouldn’t Do When Your Writing Is Critiqued
Don’t make knee-jerk edits. You shouldn’t make any changes to your writing until you’ve given the edits thoughtful consideration. Reflect on the advice you’ve been given before you incorporate any recommendations. And—of course—always save copies of your drafts.
Don’t argue. Resist the urge to tell your critique partners “you’re wrong” or “you’re not reading my work right.” A critique session is an opportunity for you to gather as much information as possible. What you do with that information when you get home and have time to process it privately is your business alone. Pushing back defensively against critique might compel your partners to withhold or censor any future (potentially helpful) feedback.
Don’t take it personally. No reader approaches a work of creative writing without a fair amount of personal baggage of his or her own—which means no two readers will view a work the same way. Whether a critique is grumpy or gushing, accept it with a grain of salt. And remember: You never really know what compels critique partners to make the observations that they do. Here’s our guide to interpreting critique.
And Most Of All, Remember This Key Strategy For Taking Critique Of Your Creative Writing
When you’re feeling doubtful, remember this: Your writing is yours. No one can tell you what to do with it. No one can tell you how to feel about it. No one can know your goals except for you. Stand tall with the knowledge that your writing—the struggles, the triumphs, the process—is your journey alone. Learn more about how to get over a bad critique of your creative writing.
Question: Share a story from a critique session that changed the way you feel about critique.
Think hemming and hawing are signs of enervated elocution? Think again! In this NPR article found by Writer’s Relief, we learned that new linguistic studies show that “um” and “ah” and “uh” are much more than useless sounds:
The evidence shows we also may use these words intentionally as buffers before offering what are called dispreferred responses, or answers our conversation partners may not welcome. Let’s say a friend asks you to an event that you don’t wish to attend, and you’re about to decline. If you slightly delay that bad news by starting out with “uh” or “um,” that’s the conversation machine at work.
March is National Women’s History Month! At Writer’s Relief, we’re celebrating by reading books by our favorite women authors. Whether you like fiction or nonfiction, traditional or offbeat formats, realism or fantasy, comedy or drama…you’ll find something great to read in this list.
10 Books By Women You Should Be Reading
1. Far From The Tree by Robin Benway
Grace gets pregnant at sixteen and puts her baby up for adoption—and, upon learning that she’s adopted too, goes searching for her own biological family. This beautiful, poignant book, which takes a hard look at the foster system, won the 2017 National Book Award for teen literature.
2. A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams
These interwoven short stories explore every issue facing today’s twenty-something women, from cringeworthy romance and family drama to profound loneliness. This firecracker of a collection is Williams’s debut novel.
3. Marlena by Julie Buntin
Two girls, Cat and Marlena, are as different as night and day, but form an unlikely and unbreakable small-town friendship—but then Marlena, consumed by drugs and drinking, dies suddenly. Decades later, as this intricate mystery unfolds, Cat must finally face up to what happened and try to move on.
4. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A whip-smart and wildly imaginative tale, this 1963 Newbery winner tells the story of a teen girl, Meg, as she travels through time and space. (Plus, the much-anticipated movie adaptation makes this the perfect time to read this classic!)
5. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Bechdel’s memoir of growing up in a funeral home and eventually coming out as a lesbian is equal parts sidesplitting and heartbreaking—and it’s told entirely through the author’s own comic strips.
6. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Not for the faint of heart, Morrison’s debut novel follows young Pecola as she prays for lighter skin, pronounced beauty, wanting to grow up faster—but learns that the adult world is much darker than she could have realized.
7. Milk And Honey by Rupi Kuar
Kuar’s poems are lyrical yet accessible, bringing poetry to a wide audience of readers. Her collection tackles the visceral experiences of love and loss; abuse and healing; humanity and femininity.
8. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
After young Suzy’s best friend drowns, Suzy retreats into her imagination. Her journey starts off in denial, but through her own vivid storytelling, she comes to acceptance and understanding.
9. The Secret Ingredient Of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell
Readers looking for a little magic will be delighted by this story. It centers on Rachel, a young woman with the secret—and sometimes disastrous—ability to grant wishes, who flees her hometown and is surprised by what she finds in Nowhere, North Carolina.
10. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
From Comedy Central to Saturday Night Live to Parks And Recreation, Amy Poehler has made a name for herself as a laugh-out-loud funny, outspoken feminist, and her razor-sharp memoir doesn’t disappoint.
Question: Now you tell us—which female authors should we drop everything to read?
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