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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Peaslee

Tips on Writing "Larger Than Life" Dialogue

I think writing dialogue is one of those polarizing things: you either love it or you hate it.

I love it. Give me a blank sheet of paper and tell me to write a conversation taking up the whole page and I can do that. Give me another sheet and tell me to fill it up with descriptions, and I can do it, but it will be excruciating and slow.

I was having a conversation with a friend a few months ago about the importance of dialogue. We were watching The Idol—or trying to; we couldn't make it through the first episode—and he said the writing wasn't clever. I agreed, but that got me thinking.

Does dialogue need to be clever?

I say no. Which takes a lot of pressure off, right? Eh, kind of. Because while dialogue doesn't need to be clever, it does need to be "larger than life."

Donald Maass, in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, talks about the importance of having "larger than life" characteristics. He recommends having snappy dialogue with "zingers" and to "play against the prevailing mood of a scene."

Larger than life can translate in a lot of ways. In Predator, one of the characters is told he's bleeding. His response? "I ain't got time to bleed."

It's my favorite line in the movie.

It is definitely larger than life; it's not something you would expect someone to say after being injured.

In a different genre, The Onion News Network segment "Today Now" was a masterclass in writing hilarious dialogue. Take, for instance, the video "Little Boy Heroically Shoots, Mutilates Burglar."

What makes this dialogue "larger than life?" The total mundaneness, ironically. It's an absurd situation; the dialogue highlights that absurdity by swinging in the opposite direction.

Again, it's not what you would expect. Like Maass says, it plays against the scene's mood. And that's what makes it work.

Have your readers saying this with every chapter.

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