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A Dialogue on Dialogue – Memoir Craft Discussions

After several writers had questions, the Memoir Incubator Peer Artist Leaders put together a lesson on dialogue.

By Elizabeth Jannuzzi

June 02, 2022

“Are we going to have a session on dialogue?” my classmate asks on Slack, the messaging app we use to keep in touch between classes. “I’m really struggling with dialogue,” she says. Other classmates chime in and share helpful articles.

Our Incubator leaders respond to our needs and put together a lesson on dialogue. Conversations between characters, we learn, help break up the monotony of a narrator telling a story. Dialogue literally adds white space to the page. It is also a useful tool to reveal important information to your reader, even backstory. We hone in on the memoir-specific challenge of recalling conversations that you have no choice but to reconstruct to the best of your ability.

We read a dialogue-heavy excerpt from a well-regarded memoir. We discuss what purpose the dialogue is serving, what tags the author chooses, and how a simple word like “mutter” or “announce” can change the quoted line. We even talk about the basic formatting rules of dialogue, such as starting a new paragraph every time the speaker changes.

Previous classes I’ve attended have had iron-clad lesson plans—Week One’s lesson is about this, Week Two’s lesson is about that. But in the Incubator, we can discuss what’s currently on our minds while we write and collectively decide what’s the next writing topic we should dissect and learn about.

I can’t wait to see what topic will come up next on Slack that will lead to another in-depth class discussion.

Elizabeth (Liz) Jannuzzi, Project Write Now’s operations and communications manager, is a mother and writer living in New Jersey. Her work has been featured in Counter Clock, Off Topic Publishing, HerStry, and Pangyrus. She is currently working on a memoir about recovery.