Our 6th Annual Dialogue Contest is now officially accepting submissions. With prizes bigger than ever this year, you want to be extra prepared with your stories. A couple weeks back we published the first of two posts filled with tips from our past contest winners. Here’s two more interviews to help get you over the dialogue-writing bumps you may experience.

Mark Jordan Manner – 3rd Annual Dialogue Contest Winner

Winning Story: “Poem About Writing a Poem”

BS: How does your approach to writing a dialogue-only story differ from your normal writing process?

MJM: I know I won’t need a dictionary or thesaurus.

BS: What are the key ingredients for good dialogue?

MJM: I think the opening line is really important. It should grab the reader and drop them right into the flow of conversation, make them care about it, make them invested in the exchange before they even know or understand what exactly is being discussed. Make them want to know.

Also, the F word.

BS: What is one piece of advice you have for contest entrants?

MJM: Only enter contests run by the magazines you love.

BIO: Mark Jordan Manner lives in Toronto. His stories have appeared in Grain, EVENT, Prairie Fire, The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, Riddle Fence, The Feathertale Review, and Little Fiction. He will begin his MFA at The University of Guelph in the fall.

Annam Manthiram – 2nd Annual Dialogue Contest Winner

Winning Story: “Why Won’t You”

BS: How does your approach to writing a dialogue-only story differ from your normal writing process?

AM: To be honest, I don’t write dialogue-only stories very often, so they are very challenging to me!  Whenever I approach a story, I try to view it as a highly dimensional process.  What is going on in the background and in the foreground of the scene, and how does each affect each other and the scene that is unfolding?  Manipulating these elements can lend dimension to the relationships between characters.

In a dialogue-only story, the scene is entirely dominated by the foreground (the conversation).  There are no descriptive elements to indicate what is going on in the background, apart from what the characters may be saying about it.  So I ask myself at this point: what happens when most or all of the scene is in dialogue?  How does that affect the narrative?   Am I getting the dimensionality that I want, and if not, how do I tweak the dialogue so that I will?  My answers determine the starting point of the conversation.

BS: What are the key ingredients for good dialogue?

AM: Dialogue in fiction isn’t really a replication of how people speak in real life.  It is more of the author’s way of guiding a conversation.  The writer must go back to intent.  What do you want this conversation to say, and how should it resonate with the reader?   I think of good dialogue as slanted; people talking at each other, not really to each other.  If you listen to people talking out and about, you will find some great examples.

Also, you must understand the motivation of a character, her background, her likes/dislikes, her upbringing, etc. in order to write dialogue for that person.  The way we speak, the words we use, our manner of speech are all direct reflections of who we are.   You cannot write good dialogue unless you know your characters.

BS: What is one piece of advice you have for contest entrants?

AM: Don’t give up!  I submitted many times before my story was chosen.  Nobody gets better without practice and rejection.

BIO: Annam Manthiram is the author of the novel, After the Tsunami (Stephen F.  Austin State University Press, 2011) and Dysfunction: Stories (Aqueous Books, 2012).  A graduate of the M.A. Writing program at the University of Southern California, Ms. Manthiram resides in New Mexico with her husband, Alex, and sons, Sathya and Anand.


Now that you’ve read tips from the masters, be sure to submit your entry to the 6th Annual Dialogue Only Contest for a chance at big prize money and literary fame!

Nathaniel Tower

Nathaniel Tower is the founding and managing editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. Find out more about Nathaniel at nathanieltower.com.

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