Leap into dialogue, like Hoover

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Colleen Hoover is white-hot now. Of the ten bestselling novels of 2022, she wrote five. Her output is impressive, too. Over the last eight years, she’s released twenty-six novels. She gets started because she knows how to use dialogue.

How does she finish three books a year, from halfway through Obama to halfway through Biden? To get herself unstuck, she lets her characters talk.

Hoover has her habits, the tics that readers love. At the heart of her work is dialogue. She said in a recent interview that she dislikes the narration parts of storytelling. You might doubt that when you read the closing lines from her romance Hopeless.

I want you to remember who you are, despite the bad things that are happening to you. Because those bad things aren’t you. They are just things that happen to you.

It’s clever because it’s presented as summary, narration conveyed in first-person without quotes. But it’s written as if it could read as dialogue. Hoover says she drops into dialogue when she’s frozen up. You know, writer’s block.

The beauty of using dialogue as your jimmy bar to break open a story? The backstory that you know in your head drives your writing of the spoken lines. You haven’t written the backstory out, in this method. Your characters are breathing it.

Find your narration spots

Of course, Hoover finds her way back to the narration. We all expect the narrator’s voice. A great place for your narration is right after a significant passage of dialogue. If you find that your current novel draft is just one scene after another, look for the spots in between where the narrator’s voice would be a refresher. Elmore Leonard wrote crime novels and westerns: Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma, both great movies (both produced twice). Leonard’s dialogue is masterful and dominates the writing.

Then he pirouettes into his narration and you get the bigger picture, the heart of the context.

Hoover does the same thing, often. Those yellow sections below from her opening three pages of the free sample of Heart Bones are her narration. The rest is dialogue laced into scene.

Opening pages of Hoover and her ability to use dialog

The value that you capture, while trying this dialogue-first method of drafting, is seeing lots of words flow onto a blank page. There’s much revision ahead when you leap into dialogue by itself. But there’s a hope that you can drink in, as a novelist or short story writer, that you really are a writer. Because you’re writing.

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