Naked Dialogue

by Randy Ingermanson


“What’s naked dialogue?”

“It’s dialogue without any action, description, interior monologue, or interior emotion.”

“Can you do that?”

“In short stretches.”

“Why would you do that? It sounds stupid.”

“If the main conflict is in the dialogue, then adding anything else takes the edge off the conflict.”

“I don’t believe that could work. Give me three examples where you’d use it.”

“Courtroom scenes. Interrogations. Um … can’t think of a third example.”

“Maybe a Socratic dialogue?”

“Oh, right.”

“So you can actually make this work without even one tag to tell me who’s talking?”

“If it works, it works.”

“What if it doesn’t work?”

“Then add in the minimum amount of other stuff necessary to make it work.”

“I suppose you’d call that bikini dialogue then?”

“You’re stretching the metaphor too far.”

“And you somehow imagine this kind of dialogue works?”

“I know it.”

“Could you do a whole scene that way?”

“Orson Scott Card did several scenes that way in ENDER’S GAME.”

“How did the reader know who was talking?”

“Readers are smart.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Don’t readers have to see at least one tag so they know the names of the speakers?”

“Not unless they need to know the names.”

“But you’d have to limit it to two people, right? You couldn’t possibly do this with three people, could you?”

“Hey guys! Whatcha talking about so violent-like over in the corner? Gretchen, are you practicing your interrogation skills on poor Grendel?”

“Get lost, Goober. I’m just trying to get the bare facts.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! I get the message. I’m not wanted, so I’m outta here. Give her heck, Grendel.”

“So what was your question again? Something about three people?”

“Never mind, I figured it out.”

“Any more questions?”

“Well, naked dialogue sounds difficult. Is it worth it?”

“You have to decide that after it’s all written. You can always throw the scene away if you don’t like it.”

“Have you ever tried it? In your own scene?”

“Just once.”


“Just now.”

“Oh, man, are you going meta on me? Mixing planes of existential reality again? You are so weird!”

“Admit it, Gretchen, you love me.”

“That’s it. We’re finished and I’m leaving.”

“It ain’t over till I say it’s over.”

“You can’t keep me here against my–”

“It’s over.”


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers.

Randy has more. Visit

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6 thoughts on “Naked Dialogue”

  1. “So you wrote this, Randy?”
    “Of course I did, Margaret.”
    “I like using this kind of dialogue in some scenes, too. It might work especially well for picture books for children, because each character might have a different page when s/he speaks.”
    “So you write picture books for children, Margaret?”
    “Well, now that you’ve asked–please check out my PBs on eBookChristian. Was that shameless self-promotion, Randy?”

  2. It can work, but only in short stretches.

    This article is hardly what I’d call a short stretch, so it doesn’t work, at least not for me. Guess I’m old school. I like to see some action with dialogue, a smile, a sigh, a sip from a glass of whisky; otherwise you’re left with nothing but a screenplay.

    Being “smart” has nothing to do with it. It’s about attention span. Today’s readers have no patience to read descriptions. Dialogue, creative writing courses claim, moves the story.

    Go ahead, write an entire novel with no dialogue tags, no actions, no descriptions, just to see if it can be done. I won’t read it.

    1. I agree with you, Conrad. Short bursts only… what happens if the phone rings or someone distracts the reader for a short time? It’s all the way back to the top to figure our who was talking when.

      You can add the bits of action in the dialogue–but again only in short bursts.

      “Don’t roll your eyes at me, Michael Allen Smith.”
      “Mom, how did you see that when you aren’t looking at me?”
      “A mother knows.”

  3. Any text is only as good as what its words make happen inside a reader’s head, and no two readers are alike.

    To be honest, I looked at this post and I skimmed it. I saw nothing but dialogue and knew it wouldn’t connect with me. What does dialogue, no matter how well written, make happen inside a reader’s head?

    Writers are taught to “show” and not “tell.” What is dialogue but telling? It’s the sighs, the chuckles, the running one’s hand through one’s hair, the glancing in a mirror to see the picture of Dorian Gray their life has made them that makes magic happen in a reader’s head, not the dialogue.

    I’m told readers today see a long paragraph—anything more than three sentences—and skip over it. What a shame. But the greater shame is that writers cater to them. It’s no wonder fewer Americans read today.

    The novel is dying.

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