How To Write Dialogue With Subtext

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Writing good dialogue is trickier than it seems. If you’ve ever thought…

“My Characters Are Fascinating While I’m Writing… Right Up To The Instant Where I Read Back Over What I Wrote, And Fall Asleep… Or Want To DELETE Them All!”

…you’re not alone.

I already know I want this.

Seriously. One of my early rejection slips read, and I quote:

“Much, much, much, much, MUCH too much exposition.”

That was the whole thing. Hey… it was a PERSONAL rejection. One of the good ones that really, really helped me… after I looked up exposition to find out what it meant, and discovered what I’d done wrong, anyway.

We’ve all been there.

It’s not a fun place to be, but at the point where you have two characters explaining to each other why Quaker settlers in space are traveling to their new planet… and they’re the settlers!… you have a problem. Yep, I really did that, and yep, that was what the editor had to say about it. About the many, many, many pages of it.

I like to think the editor I almost killed with that particular submission survived.

I don’t know, because I never had the courage to send anything else back there. But I did eventually learn how to fix my dialogue.

So… Let’s look at some common dialogue problems most writers run into sooner or later.

  • If your characters are yammering on about the weather…
  • Or their only dialogue is argument, and the argument is what the dialogue is about…
  • Or every time they open their big yaps, they give away some critical plot point you really needed to hide from the reader…
  • Or you get bored writing them talking…

…you have a dialogue problem.


Writing dialogue seems like it ought to be the easiest thing in the world.

You talk to people. They talk to you.

So if you transpose those conversations onto paper (or conversations similar to them) you’ll write great dialogue, right?

I know I tried this. Maybe you’ve already tried it, too.

When you put your theory into practice, though, you discover the hard truths about writing dialogue:

  • Most things most people talk about are painfully boring (and if you copy those subjects and those people, your story will be boring).

  • The subjects people talk about in daily life have nothing to do with the stories you’re writing (and coming up with subjects for your characters to talk about in your story can create artificial, forced conversations).

  • Normal human dialogue is not moving your story forward.

I hear the same complaint from absolute beginners, unpublished “trunk novelists” with a couple of finished novels—or more—tucked away, folks who are now indie-publishing… and sometimes even  frustrated pros…

“Writing dialogue that is fascinating for the reader…
is HARD for the writer!”

Writing good dialogue is hard for ME!

But being able to write the kind of dialogue that drags your reader into the story and will not let him go so completely and grippingly that he misses his bus stop, or she stays up all night reading your story even though she has work the next morning…

That’s what GREAT dialogue can do for your story.

Writing meaningful, compelling dialogue is a critical skill for making your characters believable, for keeping your stories tight—and for burying essential subtext right in plain sight so that you never have to cheat to stun your reader with that awesome ending twist.

  • You cannot get readers to stick with your story if your characters have nothing important to say to each other.
  • Good dialogue, on the other hand, will keep readers hanging on even if you aren’t perfect on all the other storytelling skills you need.

Great, conflict-y, compelling dialogue in a story is like overhearing two people talking under their breath at the table next to you, and discovering that one of them is your favorite movie star in disguise and the other is an international spy on a secret mission… and then realizing that both of them are lying their asses off to each other, and that something unspoken involving both of them is happening right behind your back.

And if you don’t get yourself noticed, you might survive to figure it out.

You just have to keep buying coffee to have an excuse to eavesdrop.

So I’m going to show you how to make your dialogue THAT irresistible.

Show me now!

In Dialogue and Subtext, you’ll discover:

How to make two characters talking about the weather as exciting as a life-or-death meeting between enemy spies.

The trick is in your getting your subtext right—in knowing what subtext is, in knowing WHERE it is, and in knowing how to present it, intentionally and so it does exactly what you want it to do.

I demystify the whole aura of inaccessibility that writers have built around subtext over the years.

An absolute beginner who has never even heard of subtext can understand this facet of dialogue construction today…

Can take the process apart and put it back together today…

Can start making the things your characters talk about funny, or poignant, or heart-stoppingly scary while sliding the other part of subtext under their noses and straight to your reader…


In How to Write Dialogue With Subtext, you will learn:

  • What subtext is, and what it isn’t—and how this simple definition opens the doors for you to create rich, multilayered characters in stories that interweave suspense, hidden action, deception, triumph, hopes and dreams with depth you’ve never achieved before.

  • How to break apart subtext into its three elements—thoughts, words, and actions—and how, once you have the whole thing in pieces, you can easily adapt each piece to do different things for you. Talking about the weather will no longer just be talking about the weather.

  • How to put the pieces back together again in four ways that will allow you to use subtext in any situation where you need it: from a character sitting alone in a room to a group of characters enmeshed in a heated argument. Get EXACTLY the effect you want from every dialogue—internal or external, solo or group—your characters have.

  • Finally, you’ll put everything you’ve learned into practice. Using the provided worksheets, you will begin writing dialogue with subtext that will bring your characters’ voices to life.

Start building the writing skills you need to become the writer you want to be. Today.

How to Write Dialogue with Subtext
Single Payment
Keep Readers Hooked While Your Characters Are Talking
Single Payment, Permanent Classroom Access
Make every conversation you write ESSENTIAL to the story
Avoid the dreaded "conflict argument"
Learn how... and WHY... you bury the conversation subtext
Learn what subtext is, and what it ISN'T
Break subtext into its three essential components so you can play with them YOUR way
Get EXACTLY the effect you want from every conversation
And the write the character conversations that grab your readers...
Keep them turning pages...
And thrill them (and you) with what you showed them, what you told them... and what you kept hidden...
Writing great dialogue is a career-building skill, and you can master it!


  • Ebook in Kindle, ePub, and printable PDF formats

  • Downloadable, printable worksheets

  • Always-available Classroom* (retake this class alone or with other writers as often as you like)

  • Forum Discussions, Brainstorming, and Help


You can do this!

Holly Lisle

Novelist, Writing Course Creator

Course Information

Course Instructor

Holly_Think Holly_Think Author

Novelist. Writing-course creator.