Lee Child Shares Tips for Using Research and Dialogue in Writing

Dialogue can make or break a novel – it has to be believable, timely, and easy to follow. Similarly, research in writing mustn’t “stick out like a sore thumb.” It should follow the storyline seamlessly, complementing the author’s imagination with evidence and truth.

Lee Child is the author of the Jack Reacher thrillers, which have graced the New York Times bestseller list many times over. Throughout his long career as a writer, he’s gained invaluable knowledge on incorporating research and dialogue into a novel.

In the video below, Lee Child shares what he’s learned about dialogue usage, and how research factors into his writing. Be sure to watch, and check out Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel, The Midnight Line.

Transcription of Lee Child discussing research techniques and dialogue usage.

Hi, I’m Lee Child, author of The Midnight Line, which is the 22nd Jack Reacher novel. And over that span of books, I have worked very hard on dialogue.

I’ve always believed that dialogue is the thing that separates the sheep from the goats when it comes to writers. I found writing for television really good for dialogue, because you’ve got to fight for every word. You’ve got to fight for space in television, and you’ve got to keep it as concise as possible. If three words will do it, that’s better than four – certainly better than five. And so I guess, yeah, that was a big step up – learning how to do it really, really to the point and really fast.

The research, for me, is a very strange process, because I don’t do any – not for the specific book, because I believe that if you research for a specific book, then that research will be too fresh and too new, and it will stick out like a sore thumb. So I depend on what I have already read, what I’ve already found out, maybe years before. And I guess the weirdest thing recently was in Night School, which was the last book.

The story is about the hunt for some unknown person who’s trying to sell some military hardware for $100 million. We don’t know what it is, and when we find out, it’s pretty amazing. But the research shows it’s true. Those things really existed, which is just beyond bizarre.