Genre Hopping with Andrea Johnson **giveaway**

I am delighted to welcome Andrea Johnson to the blog today. Some of you may know Andrea from her Victoria Justice Mysteries about a trial stenographer turned amateur sleuth. But today I’ve invited her to the blog to talk about her other writing career. Andrea writes books for writers. She’s written How to Craft a Killer Cozy Mystery, Mastering the Art of Suspense: How to Write Legal Thrillers, Medical Mysteries, & Crime Fiction, and her most recent book How to Craft Killer Dialogue for Fiction & Creative Non-Fiction. I’m delighted she agreed to write a post for us.

What Makes Dialogue Memorable?

“He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

This classic line comes from The Untouchables (1987), written by famed playwright David Mamet, which chronicles a group of police officers tasked with bringing down Al Capone and his Chicago-based bootlegging empire. Spoken by Irish cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery), the line is delivered to help Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) understand that the only way to beat Capone is to play dirtier than Capone.

The Untouchables. Dir Brian DePalma Paramount Pictures

This line’s ability to perfectly capture the moment has been praised the world over, even paraphrased by Barack Obama during a 2008 Presidential fundraising campaign in response to his upcoming battle against Republicans.

But why make such a fuss over a movie line—not to mention, one that’s more crime thriller than cozy? Well, it’s just one of the many pieces of magically memorable dialogue that almost kept me from becoming a writer. It took me well over 40 years before I had enough courage to put pen to paper because no one had told me the simple truth:

Writing effective dialogue simply requires having a clear picture of what information you’d like the scene to convey and an understanding of how that speech will deepen your character’s personality and propel the plot. In other words, what do you want the exchange to accomplish both internally and externally? Answering this simple question will ensure that the dialogue you write moves the narrative forward, which results in a significant change in the characters’ attitudes and their situation.

Another key is to write dialogue where the characters are either in disagreement or discovery. Use subtext to highlight the opposing agendas, hidden resentments, or subtle tensions bubbling under every exchange. That way, you’re constantly sharing new data with the reader by setting up situations where your characters are able to express their desires, grievances, and motivations—after all, such clues and confessions are essential to every whodunit.

In fact, traditional mysteries often include extensive recaps or explanations of motive by the sleuth (and villain), especially during the finale. However, to avoid turning those crucial moments into monotonous speeches, find ways to create breaks within those monologues by emphasizing external actions such as the sleuth pulling out evidence to support her claim or having her quell physical confrontations among the accused. In addition, you may find it helpful to divide the explanation across several scenes or chapters, revealing parts of the solution in each. Or better yet, break up long blocks of speech by having the other characters interrupt or ask for clarification. This helps to synthesize the information for the audience while ensuring the scene has a steady pace. You can also include the actions and reactions of the listeners as well as moments of internal reflection from the viewpoint character to comment about how things are progressing. This ensures your story evokes a sense of realism, which prevents your reader from getting bored.

But most importantly, just as I learned while watching and rewatching The Untouchables, don’t feel obligated to start conversations from the beginning or to end them with polite finality. Just like a good movie, a good story should cut to the heart of the matter and leave the audience wanting more.

Readers, what would you consider memorable dialogue? Is there a passage from a book or a quote from a film that kicks you in the gut every single time? Post your reply in the comments within 48-hours of this publication for a chance to win all three books in the Writer Productivity Series.

Author Biography:

Andrea J. Johnson is the author of the Victoria Justice Mysteries, a courtroom whodunit series. She also teaches Creative Writing at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and has penned three productivity guides: How to Craft a Killer Cozy Mystery, Mastering the Art of Suspense, and How to Craft Killer Dialogue.

Buy her books online through your favorite retailer using the following links:

To gain more advice, join Andrea’s mailing list for a copy of her FREE 38-page Writer Productivity Bundle, which includes tips on dialogue, synopsis writing, comp titles, agent queries, and much more! –

You can also follow Andrea on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter @ajthenovelist or learn more about her and her fiction books at

About the Book:

Ever wonder what techniques Elmore Leonard used to create masterful dialogue for his highly quotable crime stories? Want to create the same heart-warming character introspections as found in the works of Judy Blume? Or maybe, you’d prefer to plumb the depths of layered subtext as powerfully displayed in the works of artists like Toni Morrison? With How to Craft Killer Dialogue, you will reach all of those goals as well as master your own approach to enhancing characterization through vivid dialogue. You will also learn everything you need to transform the spoken language in your book—from how to develop tension and suspense to techniques for representing accents and dialects effectively. So whether you’re writing a novel, memoir, or something in between, How to Craft Killer Dialogue is your go-to resource for creating, revising, and perfecting conversations that your readers will quote for years to come. Learn more:

24 Thoughts

  1. Welcome to the blog, Andrea! Thank you for sharing those valuable tips.

    I can never think of great examples, when asked, but I’m sure others will come up with some. And now I have to go watch The Untouchables – I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.

  2. Like Edith, I’m garbage at coming up with examples, but good dialogue is a joy to read – or listen to in a movie.

    Edith, you must watch “The Untouchables.” I loved it.

  3. From Sarah Addison Allen’s THE PEACH KEEPER, ““You maced people for me. You’ve got me for life.”

  4. Welcome to the blog! What great advice. Most of the lines I remember from movies are from comedies — like the Blues Brothers or Young Frankenstein.

    1. How about, “We’re on a mission from God,” Sherry? I could quote The Blues Brothers all day long!

    2. Everybody loves The Blues Brothers. And J.C. nailed the classic line from that one—although I also love: We’re 106 miles from Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, a half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.

  5. Thanks for visiting, Andrea! The first line that comes to my mind is from Jaws, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

    1. My pleasure. I love that this community is so supportive and active. I even recognize some faces (like yours)!

  6. I’m usually terrible at coming up with examples, but J.C.’s recall of “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Gets my vote. Jaws also gets my vote for most memorable monologue. I won’t quote it here, but it’s Quint’s recitation of events surrounding the sinking of the Indianapolis. Kicks me hard every time.

  7. Good dialogue is what makes the book or movie appealing and captures your interest. It creates a captivating audience. Rosebud – movie. Love wins. Love always wins – book quote – Tuesdays with Morrie.

  8. I remember as a kid liking Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day. Harry Potter (both books and movies) have had many memorable lines. Psych is a very quotable show, at least in my house anyway! I’m sure I’m forgetting some other good ones. Dialogue can be tricky to get right, but so good when it happens. Can sometimes make or break a book or movie.

    1. The Independence Day speech is one is my favorites too because not only does it work in the moment but it acts as an overall theme for the movie and ties together every scene that comes before it—the ideas that any group who hopes to survive must learn to work together. Brilliant!

  9. Here’s my suggestion:
    Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

    “So why does our writing matter, again,” [my students] ask.
    “Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. . . . It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. Yo can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
    — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
    Be the song, my friends. Be the song.

  10. welcome. I don’t have any particular pieces of dialogue that come to mind. Though i do know that sometimes a passage – for a variety of reasons – really strikes a chord for me. Often it is a piece of “dialogue” between the person and themselves.

  11. Books which resonate with me are profound and meaningful. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again. Here’s looking at you kid. Both old school and my favorite.

  12. I can’t remember any memorable excerpts or quotes off hand. I’m sure there are many, but I just don’t remember them.

  13. “If you build it, he will come.” from both the novel Shoeless Joe and the Movie Field of Dreams. I love both the book and the movie, which are about way more than just baseball. Here is a character who starts hearing a voice tell him to build a baseball field on his farm, which makes no sense.Ray Kinsella thinks the “he” referred to is Shoeless Joe Jackson, then he thinks it is a a writer (J.D. Salinger in the book, Terrance Mann in the movie). But then he finally realizes at the end he built the ball field so he could be reunited with his deceased father to have one last game of catch. It gets me every time! I thought the whole setup was just brilliant.

    1. YES! When a speech can extend beyond it’s potential surface meaning (baseball) into SO much more, you know the dialogue is strong. Love this!

  14. I always think of “Show Me the Way to Go Home” lyrics when I think of a memorable movie. I love Jaws and the comments about “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” are great.

  15. Elmore Leonard was amazing at writing dialogue that actually sounds like people talking. And I really like dialogue in Haruki Murakami’s novels. The characters often discuss deep, philosophical matters, and I get immersed in those conversations. They could last for pages and pages, and I’m not complaining!

Comments are closed.