He Said, She Said: Dialogue in Books

Lego figure of a man with a five o'clock shadow standing next to a movie camera made out of Legos

244/365 - LEGO Director Minifig & Dinky Toys Unimog by puuikibeach 3.0 CC http://www.flickr.com/photos/puuikibeach/4949937857

When I was sick last weekend, one of my favorite movies was on TV. Thank goodness for being stuck on the couch!

I can say one line (really one word if said properly) and my husband knows exactly which movie I’m talking about. In my dead-to-the-world and slightly delirious state, I kept saying it over and over again, cracking myself up.

I’m not sure if the quote is so well know that you’ll know which movie I’m talking about (but you should!). Let’s see. Name this movie:

“Juanita, Juanita Wilder!”

There are plenty of other movies, though, that people know after just on word or phrase.


“I’ll be back.”


“1.21 gigawatts.”

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

It’s not quite like that for books. People know characters (Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter) or opening lines (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”), but no one knows dialogue from a book.

It makes sense. Movies are sights and sounds. Books have to convey *everything* in written words.

I pride myself on writing good dialogue, but this line of thinking never occurred to me until the state of delirium paired with reading a book with terrible dialogue. I tried to think of books with good, memorable dialogue. I know I’ve read them and yet, I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head.

And before you try, no, in the books Sherlock never actually said “Elementary, my dear Watson!”

So, prove me wrong! What’s your favorite book dialogue quote? What good dialogue books are out there?

And, most importantly, which movies are those quotes from?


4 thoughts on “He Said, She Said: Dialogue in Books

  1. Very good point. Perhaps good dialogue in literature tends to be invisible whereas bad dialogue sticks out. (It’s supposed to be that way with subtitles.) I’ll admit that I can’t think of a vast number of dialogue quotations off the top of my head. Opening lines, yes, characters, yes. One does spring to mind, which is this,
    “Yes, please.”
    “One lump or two?”
    “One, please.”
    (I just checked the book – It’s actually, “Er, please” at first and then, “Er, what?” in the end, but my inner editor must have cut that out. XD)
    It’s from Douglas Adams’ “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and I think I remember it because it’s quirky and fun. I recall other bits of dialogue from his books (but perhaps some of the others have been reinforced by TV adaptations).
    “The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club,” is another one I remember (and no, I never watched the film adaptation).
    So there are a few, but not an abundance.

  2. I think you’re right about invisibility. The bad dialogue really jumps out, where as good dialogue just seems so natural you don’t think about it.l

    I love that you remembered a whole conversation! It *is* a fun one.

  3. bethfinke

    Finally just read Huckleberry Finn, I somehow escaped doing so during my childhood. Dialogue is *fantastic*, really moves the plot along. Glad I finally read it!

    • Hmm, I did read it in school, but don’t remember much of the dialogue…just that Twain uses a lot of dialect. Might be time to pick it up again.

      Did you read an older version? Or one of the new ones with the n-word taken out?

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