Talking heads. Why you should shut them up, pronto

‘Narnia! It’s all in the wardrobe just like I told you!’

Dialogue. Lordy lord, it can bring writers undone.

Basically, dialogue needs to lively and straight to the point. Cut any excess.

Say what needs to be said, then keep moving. Especially in kidlit.

Your characters should be speaking within some kind of engaging context, too.

What’s going on around them? What are they doing ? Keep your eye on that. Allude to it.

Avoid talking heads. Avoid characters who stand (or sit) around just flapping their jaws.

I repeat: There should be something else going on other than the conversation. And it should all be related to the story.

Dialogue must have relevance.

Once, years ago, a woman gave me something she had written. She was a visual artist. But she was keen to write fiction. She wanted my opinion.

When I sat down and began reading, I was stunned. The opening was beautiful. It was evocative and lyrical. I remember there were daffodils.

There was other yellow stuff, too… The imagery was vivid.

Then the characters entered.

And they began to speak.



They were in a cafe. Seated around a table. (I’m not sure where the daffodils went.)

That’s it. A random cafe. Nothing else going on. No breaking glass in the background. No tall dark stranger in the corner. No gathering storm outside the window.

Worse than that, the characters had agendas. But they weren’t their own.

The characters did not speak their truth.

They were simply puppets for the author’s ideals. She had wound them up and they were yapping as fast as wind-up monkeys.

It didn’t matter that their opinions were worthy. Or clever. Or insightful.

The dialogue was boring and it was jarring because it didn’t ring true. And it had no relevance to the story.

Think about this next time you’re writing dialogue.

Does it ring true? Does it move the story forward? Are your characters ‘real’, or are they trying to speak a truth that isn’t theirs?

Likewise, are they engaged in some kind of activity that relates to the story, or are they static, talking heads?


‘OMG, I just went into this snowy land where there was no sign of global warming and I wasn’t cold because I’m a responsible child and I remembered to wear my thermal socks and I made sure I carried a candle which, weirdly, was a risk-free candle that did not require matches. You are totally going to freak when you see this place and you’ll be sorry you ever doubted me.’


‘Narnia! It’s all in the wardrobe just like I told you!’

Short, sharp and moves the story forward.

Aim for that. See how you go.

Jen xo

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4 Replies to “Talking heads. Why you should shut them up, pronto”

  1. Great post Jen! Hmm, is that your draft for The Lion Fights Global Warming? The next big thing after Five Goes Gluten Free?

  2. Thanks Jen, still working on this because I really don’t like chunks of description, in fact as a reader, I generally skim over them. I find dialogue far more interesting, although I guess that’s well-written dialogue.

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