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Leap into dialogue, like Hoover

February 11, 2023
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

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, 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 line 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 expect the narrator's voice. A great place to put 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 narration and you get the bigger picture, the heart of the context.

Opening pages of Hoover and her ability to use dialogHoover does the same thing, often. Those yellow sections above on her opening three pages of the free sample of Heart Bones: her narration. The rest is dialogue laced into scene.

The value that you capture, while trying this dialogue-first method, is seeing lots of words flow onto a blank page. There's much revision ahead when you leap into dialogue alone. But there's 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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