How to write fantastic dialogue? Record it.

Yesterday was a fascinating day. For the Nashville Writer’s Circle, a quarterly event I do at the Public Library, I interviewed Suzanne Kingsbury and Robert K. Massie. She wrote a stunning first novel, The Summer Fletcher Greel Loved Me. And he wrote a stunning first biography, Nicholas and Alexandra.

Both books required a massive amount of research. Massive. It’s easy to imagine how much Bob Massie did for Nicholas and Alexandra, because it all took place in the past and it all was true and he had to go find it all out. When you realize that Suzanne grew up in Connecticut and had no experience with the South, and upon reading her book, you see that she had a 100% understanding of Mississippi — the amount of research she did blows your tiny mind.

At least it did mine.

Her dialogue is spot on perfect. She has four main characters. White girl. White boy, his white buddy, and his black girlfriend. Each one speaks in a completely different way. All the white people in the book sound white. All the black people sound black. The girls sound like girls and the boys sound like boys.

What Suzanne would do, and I highly recommend this, is she’d ask people if she could record their conversations or stories. Then, she’d listen to them on headphones while she was out walking. She absorbed the language.

The same thing is true of Daisy Foote, a playwright who mailed a tape recorder to Nova Scotia and had people record their dinner conversations. Her dialogue is some of the best I’ve ever heard.

It’s a lot of work, of course. But what isn’t, that’s done right?


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