Three Things to Remember about Diaologue in Nonfiction

One of the things that new nonfiction writers find confusing is how they can possibly include dialogue in their work.  It is easy enough if they are writing up an interview, but what about historic pieces that include dialogue?  Here are three things to remember.

Dialogue Provides a Connection

Whether you are writing a piece about a NASA scientist today or you are writing about mapping Africa, dialogue helps readers connect with the people they are reading about.  They may not be engaged in the conversation but dialogue provides them with the opportunity to overhear what was being said.

Something Else to Research

Writing nonfiction requires a lot of research and dialogue doesn’t help.  Each and every word you include within quotation marks has to be researched.  This is especially important because you are not only reporting something as fact, you are attributing these exact words to someone.  This means that to use them, you have to find them.

Where do you find quotations?  Diaries, letters and speeches are all great sources.  Autobiographies and biographies are good as long as they were put together by trusted writers working with reputable publishers.  But it is definitely worth it when you find something that packs a punch.


But quotes can also be problematic if the statement is long and rambling or is simply too difficult for your readers.  I run into this when I am research science topics and the quotes I find contain a lot of jargon.  The good news is that you can paraphrase although that does mean you cannot put it in quotation marks.  I recently found the following in “Six Months of Coronavirus” by Ewen Callaway, Heidi Ledford, and Smriti Mallapaty in the journal Nature.  First, a direct quote:

“People are equating antibody to immunity, but the immune system is such a wonderful machine,” says Finzi. “It is so much more complex than just antibodies alone.”

This is exactly what virologist Andres Frinzi said.  The next isn’t a direction quote but something the authors paraphrased:

But protective immunity, which can prevent or ease symptoms, could last longer than that, says Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology in California.

Paraphrasing can allow you to clarify a confusing quote or express something using words your reader will understand.

Dialogue, scene and action are all topics that I cover in my class “Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.”  The next section begins on Monday with another section following in October.  Nonfiction writing is a great way to get your work into the hands of young readers.