Phil Earle on the importance of writing great dialogue

Author Phil Earle explains the importance of dialogue in his writing.

I love writing dialogue. Is that a strange thing to admit? I’m not sure…

Some authors will tell you that it’s descriptive writing that gets their heart thumping, that ability to transfer a picture from their head straight on to the page. But it’s never been that way for me, not as a writer, or as a reader.

Keep it pacy

I want to be told an amazing story, and I want to be told it quickly.

I have a terrible attention span. It’s an affliction I’m not proud of, but one I have to live with. As a result, when I read, I want pace and economy. I want to be told an amazing story, and I want to be told it quickly. I think that’s why Louis Sachar’s Holes is a favourite of mine. It might only be 300 pages long, but it covers 300 years of history. It’s a Western, a family saga, a comedy and a mystery, all in 300 blissful pages.

I think that’s why my books aren’t overly descriptive, because I want to write the sort of books that I’d want to read myself. Add to this the fact that I’m just not that good at descriptive writing, and you’ll understand why my writing isn’t usually described as ‘descriptive’ or ‘evocative’.

Dialogue matters

It’s dialogue that excites me. That ability to capture a character’s personality from the way they speak. I probably won’t describe the colour of their hair or eyes in any detail, instead I want their words to suggest how they might look.

I think this comes from an early obsession with film and theatre. As a lazy reader, I watched lot of movies and I think this taught me more about economy of words than any creative writing lesson ever could.

There’s rich drama in even the most mundane conversations.

It’s the same with theatre. Growing up I was obsessed with Hull Truck Theatre and the plays of John Godber. Here was a writer, obsessed with unearthing dramatic gold from the ordinary lives of those around me; hairdressers, nightclub bouncers, rugby players, teachers.

Godber didn’t have elaborate sets or huge budgets, instead he had five or six actors on stage, talking at each other for two hours, often at breakneck speed. They spoke with such passion, humour and with such extraordinary heart, that I was captivated. There’s no doubt it has been a huge influence on the way I write.

So yes, of course you should read if you want to be a great writer. Absorb as many books as you can. But don’t forget to spend time just listening; to the kids behind you on the bus, to your brother on the phone to his girlfriend. There’s rich drama in even the most mundane conversations, believe me, it’s true…

Phil Earle is the author of Being Billy, Saving Daisy and Heroic, visit his website for more details.