The Career Author Podcast: Episode 143 – The Dialogue Doctor: Jeff Elkins

The Dialogue Doctor: Jeff Elkins

The Dialogue Doctor: Jeff Elkins

Do you suffer from mono-mouth? Are you experiencing side effects such as decreased reader engagement, poor sales, and a lack of energy? If so, it might be time for a house call from the Dialogue Doctor, Jeff Elkins.

In a rare interview on The Career Author Podcast, J. talks to Jeff about his most recent manuscript, how Jeff helped J. regain the joy of writing, and why every writer needs to pay attention to what characters say and how they say it.

The Career Author Podcast is a podcast where co-authors J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon share their struggles and successes as full-time authors, advice for improving your writing craft, and honest discussions of what it takes to build a successful career as an author.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

  • The problem with most dialogue
  • Why readers will bail on your story without sharp dialogue
  • What the Dialogue Doctor does and how he can help writers
  • Why J. was thrilled when he had to convert a first draft into a screenplay

Also, J. recommends a new service for tracking your book’s rank and reviews.

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Leave us a comment: What book or movie has your favorite lines of dialogue?

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10 thoughts on “The Career Author Podcast: Episode 143 – The Dialogue Doctor: Jeff Elkins

  • Morning guys. Interesting interview today. Looking forward to a book and course from Jeff. Being able to differentiate between characters by their dialogue is a useful skill. One of the books I’m writing has a teenage ghost talking to a medieval knight ghost so it’s not too difficult to make their dialogue different, however making it good and real is another matter. I mean, did medieval knights say things like ‘forsooth’? Don’t worry about that I’m in the right place to check that out, if we’re ever allowed out again…
    To answer your question there is only one contender. Marlon Brando could have been a contender but he was easily beaten by Casablanca. I have watched the film many times and it has some of the best dialogue ever written. Almost every line is a classic and memorable piece of dialogue. How can anyone possibly beat lines like these:
    “I remember every detail, the Germans wore grey and you wore blue.”
    “Here’s looking at you kid.”
    “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
    “Round up the usual suspects.”
    “What’s your nationality?” “I’m a drunkard.”
    “…you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
    “We’ll always have Paris.” This means a lot to me as I proposed to my wife in Paris.
    And the most famous and often misquoted;
    “Play it Sam, play, As time Goes By.”
    Almost every line in the movie from almost every character is quotable. There’s a great scene where the German Major is discussing with Rick about invading Paris, London and New York and Rick replies, “There are certain sections of New York that I wouldn’t advise you to invade.”
    The subtext in some of those lines is so deep and amazing. I dream of being able to write dialogue like that.
    Great show today.

      • Anybody who has never seen the movie should make time for it. Bearing in mind it was made in 1942 long before Vogler, it meets a lot of the Hero’s Journey tropes and contains some excellent plot points:
        Inciting Incident – Ilsa the love of his life turns up at his ‘gin joint’
        Conflict – with her husband that she never told Rick about when they were in Paris… and they must get hold of some papers which Rick has so they can escape the Germans.
        Choice – Why should Rick give them the papers when he still loves Ilsa?
        Consequence – I won’t ruin the ending for you.
        Character arc – Rick goes on a journey from bitter and twisted cynic only interested in himself to… I won’t ruin the ending.
        Add to this and more the excellent dialogue in almost every conversation and you will see why I think it is one of the best films ever and why I suggest you do your ‘analysis’ on it and why every writer should make time to watch it.
        Have I gone on too long?

  • Jeff mentioned The Goldfinch and A Man Called Ove. The character of Boris from The Goldfinch is one of the most memorable characters I’ve read in a long time. And Ove! It’s in the top five of my all time favorite books.

    Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has some really memorable dialogue.
    “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

    “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

    George R.R. Martin is really good at making his characters memorable and distinct. It’s clear from the dialogue whether Tyrion is speaking or Arya or Jon Snow. Any of the characters, really. The only criticism I have is some of his women sometimes sound too much like men.

    Julia Quinn is a historical romance writer whose dialogue absolutely POPS off the page. It is so quick and witty and thoroughly enjoyable.

    Question: are there trends in dialogue? For example, after The Fault in our Stars hit it big, I noticed that contemporary YA novels were filled with characters who were super clever, witty, and snarky, making references to classic books, movies, and TV shows. Love interests would call each other by their last names. I don’t know if John Green started it with his character of Augustus, but it sure seems like after the popularity of that book, that style of talking was everywhere in YA novels. I actually stopped reading contemporary YA for a while because of it. It just wasn’t believable anymore. Does that happen? A character becomes popular so people start writing their character’s dialogue like that? I’ve not noticed it in other genres.

  • I really enjoyed this episode, guys! Great dialogue is definitely one way to make a manuscript “Hollywood friendly.”

    I’m in the minority here, but one show’s dialogue I DIDN’T like was WEST WING–Sorkin got lots of attention for the way his characters conversed rapid-fire, but that always took me out of the story (and into the writers’ room) because no person can hear, process, and respond to dialogue that quickly, unless they’re not listening at all… if the purpose was to show that no one in Washington, DC is listening and is only waiting to spew THEIR next line of dialogue, then maybe Sorkin was successful.

    When it comes to dialogue, I think Westerns are good to study because most characters are stoic and say a lot with few words–LONESOME DOVE comes to mind. Or THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Ditto for Regency set stories since during that time period, manners required one to speak civilly even on unpleasant topics, so the dialogue typically is rich with subtext: PRIDE & PREJUDICE (the BBC version with Colin Firth is the only one that counts), SENSE & SENSIBILITY, etc.

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