Indirect Dialogue


I’ve been playing around with indirect dialogue lately, and I think I’m in love. To be honest, I hardly ever used this in the past, but now that I am using it, I notice a few things:

  • My stories are smoother
  • I can spend time showing where it counts
  • I don’t feel like I’m writing a play

Using indirect dialogue is like coming up from being under water and taking a breath. But before I get into discussing how it helped me achieve these three differences, there’s one thing you absolutely have to know:

What is indirect dialogue?

If you already know the answer, great! You’ll want to read this anyway because I’m going to refer to the examples later. If you don’t, no worries–I’ll get you up to speed.

I’m sure you’re used to seeing direct dialogue in a book or story. Direct dialogue might read like this:

“Mom, I want to go see a movie with my friends,” she said.

“What time does it get out?” Mom asked.


“That’s past your curfew.”

“Please? All my friends are going and I just aced that math test.”

“Oh, alright.”

Direct dialogue happens on the page like your reader is in the room (or whatever setting you’ve selected).

Indirect dialogue is reported after the fact, with just enough information to inform the reader of what they need to know, like this:

Mom agreed I could stay out later than curfew to see the movie with my friends because I aced my math test.

Do you see the difference? Great! Let’s move on to how incorporating indirect dialogue helped me improve my fiction.

Smoother Stories

In the example above, the direct dialogue takes up six lines. The indirect dialogue only takes up two lines. This helps my fiction move at the pace I want instead of being forced to plod along in dialogue that only serves one purpose.

That’s the key to writing dialogue–writing it directly requires that it perform multiple functions. Not only does it need to inform (and hopefully engage) the reader, but it should reveal something about the characters: personalities, motivations, fears, etc.

Indirect dialogue doesn’t have to do all of that. It just has to inform the reader. If you have a bit of dialogue that exists only to offer the reader info they need, consider making it indirect.

Also, the story flows better visually. Large swaths of dialogue were just weighing my work down. Now I try to combine indirect and direct dialogue so that I can get in and out of quotes quickly, and back to the story.

Space to Show–Where I Need It

I’ve written about showing vs. telling before. Showing takes up more space than telling, and it slows the pace of a story.

Sometimes, that’s what you want–to slow things down. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you want to slow the story, but not with dialogue.

Using indirect dialogue instead of always relying on direct dialogue means you have the space to show where it counts. Remember: Showing doesn’t need to happen throughout the story. It needs to happen where it’s important.

My Novel Is Not a Play

Plays are wonderful. I love watching them performed on stage, I love reading them, I love acting them out on the loft in my house when no one’s around. But my novel is not a play.

I don’t want it to feel like a play when I’m writing it. If I’m including play written scenes like Kathryn Davis does in her eloquent and wonderful book, Versailles, then that’s one thing–but if I’m not, it shouldn’t write like a play and it shouldn’t read like a play.

There’s more to a play than dialogue of course, and I completely admire playwrights. I think it must be difficult to convey everything that’s going on in dialogue and stage direction and no freedom to break into exposition.


What’s your favorite passage that includes indirect dialogue? If you write, do you like to use it? Why? If you don’t like to use it, how come? Discuss in comments!

patreon, poetry, polls, Writing Life

Supporting Writers

Last summer, a friend and fellow-writer told me about Patreon. It’s a crowd-funding site designed to support artists. I signed up, thinking it’d be the perfect place to share my creative journey in writing and crafts. However, the combination of those two passions soon proved too confusing for patron rewards and posting, and I shut it down to regroup.

This spring, I relaunched my Patreon, with a focus on writing only. Patron rewards are for everyone, and at higher tiers, split into readers and writers to ensure that all can receive something meaningful in gratitude for supporting my work.

You can click the link above, click “Donate” in the navigation menu, or watch the video below to learn more about the rewards and how to become a patron.

If you’re a creator who would like to try out Patreon for yourself, please feel free to use my invite code and then we can both get additional support.

Why Patreon?

A long time ago, artists were able to feed themselves because of patrons. Now, they have to be sales people in order to make money off of a finished product that can take years to produce. But, with Patreon, that can change—and it’s not all about the money. Becoming a patron means taking part in someone’s creative process. I’m a patron myself, because I believe in supporting those who want to contribute to the arts.

Are You Already on Patreon?

If you’re a creator, I’d love to connect! Comment below to share your Patreon, or contact me directly.

Fiction, MFA

MFA Update: Thesis Structure & Language, and Peer Pages

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with my mentor again for an hour. We talked about my first submission and the peer pages I sent her last week for June’s residency. Starting yesterday, I’m exploring some new avenues after our discussion.


Thesis Structure

The books I’ve read for this semester thus far have all used structures other than straight-forward, plot-driven prose. I find it so refreshing that I want to do something like that with mine, but I haven’t landed on the sweet spot yet–or maybe I have.

We talked about the pastiche I wrote after reading Jenny Offil’s Dept. of Speculation. A pastiche, in case you’re not familiar with the word, is when you try to write in the style and voice of another author–using your own story, of course. After I’ve made some small revisions to mine, I’ll share it on my Patreon page. The great thing about this pastiche was how free I felt writing in this style.

My mentor and I discussed why this might be: Offil’s style isn’t stream-of-consciousness really, but somewhere in between that and the prose most of us are used to reading. It moves like stream-of-consciousness, but stays tethered to the plot. This, I think, creates energy that propels the story forward; I read Offil’s book in just two days because I couldn’t put it down.

I want to read more by writers who take this approach, but there are also other elements I want to see at work in fiction, so I might not get the chance this semester. Having been exposed to it though, I can say I rather enjoy reading and writing in this in-between way that acts like stream-of-consciousness but isn’t.

This semester, my mentor and I both want to focus on exploration with my thesis. To that end, I’m writing the start again (this is the fifth time I’m starting this story, but I’m having fun exploring different ways to do so) in a different way. I’m using this bridged style and also writing from both my protagonist’s POV and his daughter’s.

I still plan to include letters and another element that I want to keep as a surprise.


Thesis Language

My story takes place in the 17th century. Last semester, I grappled with whether or not to write it in the diction of the day. I have enough primary source material that I could adopt that type of diction, but after polling friends and family, I decided last term not to do so. It would be too distancing, too hard to get into. I tend to agree with them. It’s not like in a play or film where you’re immersed in the sound and visual of it as well (not to say a novelist can’t help the reader imagine those things, but it’s different), or like you’re only asking readers to do the work of reading that diction for two hours.

A novel is a much larger commitment for a reader, so the language needs to be accessible. However, mine was still antiquated, even with this consideration. I think I tend to gravitate toward that type of voice anyway–perhaps because I myself feel I’m an anachronism, or perhaps because when left to my own devices, I tend to choose to read classics. I’m used to that voice.

All the same, there’s something freeing in writing with a more modern diction, especially  in historical fiction. With each subsequent draft and revision, I loosen up more and more  on the antiquated voice and I think the result is something stronger.

These are just two of the shifts I’m making in my thesis. I don’t mind taking this semester to explore; there will be plenty of time to draft, especially since I used to do NaNoWriMo. Yes, I originally hoped to get my novel to a sensitivity reader prior to graduation in June 2019, and that may still be possible–but if it has to happen after I’m finished with this program, that’s fine. It’s more important that I produce the best and most engaging fiction I can at this juncture.


Peer Pages

For my peer pages, I submitted the first 20 pages of Rings of Saturn to my mentor. Peer pages aren’t due to my program until midway through April, so there’s plenty of time to make changes. And I will be making one significant change.

Originally, the character in these pages was going to travel back in time to save Pompeii. I’m still going to write that story but after talking with my mentor, thinking about what she said and sleeping on it, I’m going to do with a different character.

The peer pages will be something else–a short story. She remarked that after a first read-through, she was surprised at where I took the story at the end–but not the kind of surprise that I was going for. So I’m going to explore making these twenty pages into a complete story.

I told my mentor that whenever I try to do such a thing, everyone tells me that the short story should be a novel. She said that’s a nice problem to have, and I agree, but I’m going to take the next month and change and really make sure this story is a complete short story.


Freedom to Experiment and Explore

Last semester, the mentor I worked with drilled into my head the value of giving myself this opportunity–and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’m discovering new and different ways of telling stories and strengthening my fiction. I’m learning so much and really enjoying the process as I go.

So…if you are a writer, my advice to you is this: Remember that a first draft is just that. Revisions don’t have to follow the same path; don’t be afraid to mix things up, to feel around in the dark for awhile. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you discover about yourself and your writing when you allow yourself to take a new approach to your story.