August 22nd, 2011 / 3:26 pm

What writers do you think are the best, or really good at all, at dialogue? And in what way?


  1. Matthew Salesses


  2. M. Kitchell

      dennis cooper
      dialogue as concept as carrying tone as everything, i guess. dialogue that says things without saying things. yup.

  3. Dan Moore

      The first time I noticed dialogue as something more than an awkward carrier of exposition and conflict was when I read “Nine Stories.” Even Salinger’s uncollected stories have some of the most memorable, striking dialogue I’ll ever read. 

  4. davidpeak

      richard price. shit be how people talk. 

  5. Frank Hinton

      donald harington has good dialogue, for a deaf writer

  6. Frank Hinton

      donald harington has good dialogue, for a deaf writer

  7. Hildy Johnson

      Lorrie Moore.

  8. Hildy Johnson

      Lorrie Moore.



  10. mdbell79

      I just finished reading Patrick Dewitt’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS last week, and I thought he did a great job with dialogue. Far better than most contemporary novelists.

  11. Mike Young

      Rick Barthelme, and ditto DeLillo

  12. blm

      Henry Green (important precursor for Gaddis in this regard)

  13. Maggie Anderson

      Elmore Leonard. Whatever else you think you want to say about him, the man writes people who talk like people.

  14. Paul Jessup

      Harold Pinter. Cause in his plays no one can understand each other, ever.

  15. bartleby_taco

      Second Gaddis and Cooper, would also add Cortázar and Bolaño. Also, Pynchon in V.: “”I’m sorry,” he told the alligator.” is a favorite line of mine.

  16. mimi

      love the banter between Sybil and Seymour in “APDfBananafish”
      innocent, funny and ultimately heartbreaking

  17. Sam Cooney

      Samuel Beckett

      Patrick White

      not me

  18. deadgod

      a sharp, nice line in the batting-back-and-forth

  19. deadgod

      I think McCarthy is great at humor, menace, and dawning–generally and in reported speech.  Not many quotation marks, though.

  20. JMB

      PG Wodehouse, and in a similar meter but transposed from an English estate to a Manhattan cube farm, Ed Park.

  21. Nick

      DeLillo in End Zone and Players (said to Thomas LeClair that he wanted to capture intimate dialogue, the secret speak of couples. Early Thomas McGuane (Sporting Club, 92 in the Shade, Bushwhacked Piano). Joyce, in his short work, and some of the later school scenes in Portrait.

  22. BDC


  23. NLY


  24. Jimmy Chen

      yah man, he shredded in JR!

  25. Justin Hamm

      Elmore Leonard. He’s got perfect pitch.

  26. gene

      agreed on all those names. i’ve always also been a huge fan of sam lipsyte’s dialogue. it might take a little bit of yr suspension of disbelief in that his talkers are always so good at gab, but i like the fact that they often talk around or through each other, which, in some ways, feels realer to me than judging them by their slick diction.

  27. Jimmy Chen

      i was thinking evelyn waugh, basically the sad/asshole wodehouse, in that no one actually talks that way, so it’s a script more than a transcript

  28. Leapsloth14


  29. Leapsloth14

      McCarthy often forced with dialogue. But his books so uneven, whatever.

  30. guest

      ALL dialogue is script

  31. alan

      Nice Pynchon line.

  32. Tummler

      I approach dialogue in fiction (as a reader, not a writer) the same way that Harmony Korine approaches dialogue in film, in that “[w]hat I remember [most]…[are] specific scenes….” It would be kind of difficult for me to state that J.D. Salinger’s “Nine Stories” contains some of the absolute best dialogue I’ve read and mean it wholeheartedly, but it’s easy for me to wholeheartedly mean what I say when I make the same statement about “Bananafish”–just because the individual moments and the individual pieces tend to click with me more and become more memorable in contrast to the dialogue from an entire short story collection or an author’s entire body of work. That of the singular piece means more to me, I guess (if this comment makes sense at all).

  33. guest

      NO ONE

  34. Pontius J. LaBar

      “You want it to be one way.”
      “You want it to be one way–”
      “–Man, stop saying that–”
      “–but it’s the other way.”

      Do like the work on The Wire, and always enjoy Mamet. There are others, but those are top of mind lately.

  35. BoomersMustDie

      Read plays! Glen Gary Glenross

      Also: Elmore Leonard

  36. Don

      Yes to Pynchon and Bolaño, but they do everything well.

  37. Don

      DFW for inserting all the silences “…” of a conversation.

  38. John Fergus Ryan

      Donald Westlake.  Elmore Leonard.  For some reason crime writers seem to nail dialogue better than other genres and literary fictionists – probably because it’s so important in their stories, is my guess. 

  39. mimi

      & Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf

  40. Samuel Gulpan

      Zora Neale Hurston
      James Kelman


  41. Jimmy Chen

      sorry, guess i should have said ‘feels like’

  42. Tom Beckett

      Fielding Dawson. 

       He’s probably not read as much now as he should be.  But this guy who was at Black Mountain with Olson and Creeley, and who hung with Franz Kline and Pollock,and who later in life taught writing in prisons, had a terrific ear for the raw power of speech.  He’s one of my candidates for best prose writer of the last century.  I

  43. Leapsloth14

      Taping arguments is also good.

  44. Sarasoo

      & I say, ALL dialogue ‘feels like’ script

  45. lorian long

      my favorite in V: ‘yo, seagull.’

  46. lorian long

      yes beckett yes beckett yes he the only

  47. ryan chang

      barthelme’s dialogue in the collection “Chroma” is crazy–cuts to the bone, the chase, the heart of it, while also making me wonder what and where these people are in life, how they got there

  48. deadgod

      Yes, people in his stories sometimes speak under pressure, and the texture of the storytelling varies as the mood(s) and velocity change.  Nice catch!

  49. nick

      and tom stoppard (arcadia, etc)

  50. stephen baldwin

      dostoevsky for all those intense, rambling three-four page monologues. them russians are quaaaaazy!

  51. Anonymous

      The collage-y, art opening/party scenes in THE RECOGNITIONS. Everyone talking past each other in Delillo. Dow Mossman is great at building a character’s specific speech patterns, then growing them.

  52. Parker

      Raymond Carver & Lorrie Moore. I believe them.

  53. keebler

      martin amis, his buffoon-criminals and schemers and their slang and slantwise street smart chat and bloviation, as necessary. clancy martin, the chat of his salesmen.

  54. Slowstudies

      MISS LONELYHEARTS is full of devastating writing, and Shrike’s monologues are justly famous, but nobody ever did hard-boiled dialogue like West does in that novel (and DAY OF THE LOCUST is nearly its equal.)

  55. Mark Doten

      beckett and wodehouse for certain types of surface play. chekhov and dostoevsky for  wild swings between crazed idea-making and  emotional sad-sackness. carver and didion for dialogs that are opposed monologues. dennis cooper, dfw and mamet for frustrated american retards attacking one another. most of these names could be switched out for one another from category to category!

  56. bartleby_taco

      Yeah, I kind of found it funny that I immediately thought about novelists instead of playwrights. Very strange; I guess I have my biases. But Mamet definitely. I remember finding this very hilarious nugget a few months ago:

      “Yes. I wrote this play called Bobby Gould in Hell.
      Greg Mosher did it on a double bill with a play by Shel Silverstein
      over at Lincoln Center. Bobby Gould is consigned to Hell, and he has to
      be interviewed to find out how long he’s going to spend there. The
      Devil is called back from a fishing trip to interview Bobby Gould. And
      so the Devil is there, the Assistant Devil is there and Bobby Gould.
      And the Devil finally says to Bobby Gould, “You’re a very bad man.” And
      Bobby Gould says, “Nothing’s black and white.” And the Devil says,
      “Nothing’s black and white, nothing’s black and white—what about a
      panda? What about a panda, you dumb fuck! What about a fucking panda!”
      And when Greg directed it, he had the assistant hold up a picture of a
      panda, kind of pan it a hundred and eighty degrees to the audience at
      the Vivian Beaumont Theater. That was the best moment I’ve ever seen in
      any of my plays.”

  57. it is, it really is


  58. Ii ji han

      playwrights richard maxwell & will eno
      cartoonists chris ware & ivan brunetti
      coen brothers & paul thomas anderson
      bret easton ellis & michel houellebecq

  59. Scott Riley Irvine

      I’m seconding Cortazar. 

  60. Pete Michael Smith

      Delillo always, but especially in his plays. He’s got a good ear for interruptions and exchange. And, of course, Hem. The dialogue in The Garden of Eden is perhaps some of the best I’ve ever read. I think it has to do with the complexity of thought vs the simplicity of speech. 

  61. RH

      Grace Paley. Few things sound as natural. 

  62. Tim Horvath

      Lance Olsen, especially in Calendar of Regrets. Bharati Mukherjee in The Middleman and Other Stories. Also Norman Rush’s “Near Pala” in Whites is fantastic, and virtually all dialogue.

  63. sean conner

      Just launched into Airships and Barry Hannah has an ear for something. I’m not from the South, but I wish I spoke like I was.

  64. Guest

      I read that short story for the first time the other month, was bored out of my mind by the dialogue in it, ended up skipping past it to the end of the story. I didn’t know what was about to happen either and wasn’t anticipating that ending, but yeah, either way, the dialogue didn’t draw me in for some reason.

  65. Chase

      Yes, totally. I can see Faulkner sitting in any of these categories, too.

  66. JW

      Paula Fox / Desperate Characters:  compelling balance there between stylistic verve and a real ear for the illogical spirals of talk and how they entwine.  Also Bellow in MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET, where a dying rich man laments his daughter’s “fucked-out eyes.” 

  67. jay says
  68. Kevin Sampsell

      Sam Lipsyte. And all those crazy southerners–Crews, Hannah, Larry Brown…

  69. Russ

      Brian Evenson’s dialog in Last Days had me laughing out loud, even in dramatic scenes.  In a good way.

  70. A DOG


  71. stephen tully dierks

      did someone say Salinger and then delete their comment? i don’t see it anymore.

      i like Salinger’s dialogue. he has a lot of pivotal things happen in stories via dialogue, and there’s a lot of characterization and interest in his dialogue, to me. 

      also, in “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Seymour: An Introduction” the narrator is speaking to someone/you throughout, kind of, so it’s like all dialogue in a way. 

      i am interested in dialogue/voices.

      i just started “Vox.”

      i don’t think of Beckett in terms of dialogue, tho i love Beckett. i guess his monologue-style prose works are also narrator’s one-way dialogue in a sense. in that sense, i love him for dialogue.

  72. justlola


  73. John Bryan

      I second Salinger. 

  74. William Owen

      Hillary Mantel. Every other page of her stuff has lines that just blaze. Richard Price ya, and George R.R. Martin.

  75. big boner style

      they all suck. that dawg fishkind on that shit tho. rising, motherfucker