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Memorable Dialogue

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today who sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother. Be he ne’er so vile, this day will gentle his condition, and those gentlemen in England now abed, shall think themselves accursed they were not here.” Henry V: William Shakespeare

Now that’s what I call memorable dialogue and penned by a true master of the craft, if only I could come up with a winning dialogue like that. We all, as writers, strive to emulate the great writers by not only creating unforgettable literary pieces, but by also creating memorable dialogue, but what is it that makes dialogue memorable?

Quite often, what we fail to perceive as memorable dialogue, is some minor quote that triggers an emotional response in the reader, and it’s that trigger that makes it memorable.

It could be anything, anything at all, and it doesn’t need to be central to the plot, or to be spoken by a main character.

I’ve read some fantastic books over the years, in a great many of which I’ve found some memorable dialogue that others may have dismissed because it doesn’t speak to them the way it speaks to me.

Is it easy to write memorable dialogue?

In my humble opinion, no it isn’t, because writing dialogue is a skill, and like any other skill it has to be honed. I’ll wager good money that even the great Shakespeare himself experienced some difficulty with dialogue when he first put quill to parchment. Did any of the great writers get it right the first time? I’ll hazard a guess here and say perhaps not, but they worked hard to hone their craft and create dialogue that was not only compelling but also quite memorable.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s most recognised work was ‘Treasure Island’, but to my mind, the most memorable dialogue penned by his hand came from the play ‘Jekyll and Hyde’.

“I have come too far to pause before the end.”

What a great line, if only I could come up with winning dialogue like that. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to change dialogue because it doesn’t flow right. I’ve even taken to rehearsing the dialogue between my characters, which has more often than not, led to some extremely strange glances on public transport. It seems to do the job and make the dialogue memorable, albeit for the wrong reasons.

I’d like to share with you a piece of dialogue from my own hand, so you can decide whether or not it’s memorable, it’s not an integral part of the story, it’s simply a random quote from one of the characters.

"Is my name important? I think not, for it serves as nothing more than a label that identifies me to others. Is it not our actions that we truly are, and more importantly, who we are to become? The merest whisper of my actions will tell you more about who I am, than an entire lifetime of calling my name from the rooftops”.

I think that what makes dialogue memorable depends on what it says to us as readers on a personal and emotional level.

Shaun McBride

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