While dialogue is one of the most fundamental parts of storytelling, it's also one of the easiest things for a writer to screw up. Badly written dialogue can lead to dull or unconvincing characters, scenes that drag, and reader confusion. In this course for fiction and nonfiction writers alike, we will focus first on what exactly we mean when we're talking about "realistic dialogue" and the varying tricks that we can use to convince readers into believing what's on the page. Our second week will be focused on the more complex issues of intentionally unrealistic dialogue and when it's better to simply summarize and forego dialogue altogether. The course will include readings from Shirley Jackson, Don DeLillo, Martin McDonagh, Junot Díaz, and RuPaul’s Drag Race; written lectures; group discussions; and writing exercises, all designed to improve what our characters sound like when speaking. Instead of focusing on a single, “correct” style of dialogue, students will leave the course with the tools needed to write and, above all, edit their dialogue into whatever style best fits the particular story they’re trying to tell.
- Close reading of exemplary pieces of dialogue, examining how authors approach voice, dialect, repetition, and overall speech patterns.
- Written lectures and instructor-led group discussions focused on improving not just the words being spoken by characters, but how we approach dialogue as a whole.
- Writing exercises to help tune our ears for how people actually speak, and to improve dialogue revision.
- Access to a nurturing community of writers and readers, as well as the full resources of Catapult's custom-built online classes platform (including live text chat and discussion threads); exclusive access to our alumni newsletter, a monthly roundup of submission opportunities (prizes, residencies, lit mags, grants, and more); plus a 10% discount on all future classes.
Week 1: Realism in dialogue: What is it authors mean when they call dialogue realistic or naturalistic, how this differs from actual speech patterns, and how we can achieve this in our own writing.
Week 2: Other approaches toward dialogue: Why sometimes authors authors choose unnaturalistic dialogue, forego dialogue altogether, or blur the line between dialogue and description.
Sean Gandert is the author of the novels Lost in Arcadia, an Amazon Bestseller and Kindle First selection, and the forthcoming American Saint. He is a graduate of the Bennington College MFA program and Yale University, and his stories and essays have been published in LitHub, Paste, Solstice, and numerous other publications.
“LOST IN ARCADIA is such a rich, immersive experience, the virtual reality of the novel used to great effect. At its heart this is a tender family drama but it’s wrapped in a shell of computer simulations, online addiction, and societal collapse. Sean Gandert plays on the line between these poles with a sure hand. This is the debut of an author to watch.“
"Prescient, funny, smart, a story to disappear into and come out the other side.“
“Sean Gandert has written an impressive first novel. It has a rare combination of vision and heart—not to mention a funny, scary dystopia that is both impressively imagined and dismayingly plausible.“
“His writing and editing abilities are top notch. Sean has a great editorial sense for seeking and shaping stories with broad appeal and a unique twist.“