The title of John Hough Jr.’s latest book is quite specific — The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue. If that seems too fixated on just one aspect of the craft of writing, consider this: The book is so helpful and so much fun, the public may demand Mr. Hough create The Writer’s Guide to Using the Letter T.

The strategy Mr. Hough uses for this book on dialogue is to take the reader on a handheld tour of the masters. It’s like visiting with a large group of old friends and hearing their voices come alive again. Ahab is here, so is Huck Finn, plus characters from Hemingway, Kent Haruf, Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Cormac McCarthy — the list is wonderfully long and varied.

Before we go any further, here is one of the many examples from Ahab; “Aye, Aye! and I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin over. What say ye men, will ye splice hands on it, now?”

Mr. Hough has been both writing and teaching the craft of writing for most of his life. He holds classes twice a week here on the Island and says that teaching dialogue is often the most fun and the most useful of lessons. Many students are either afraid of writing dialogue or simply lay down the patter of everyday talking, which Mr. Hough says is exactly the wrong way to go about it. To prove this, in his book he includes an example of President Nixon and H. R. Haldeman discussing the impending Watergate break-in, taken from the actual tapes. It should be riveting stuff, considering the high stakes, tension-filled atmosphere of the situation. And yet it is a rambling bore, which is the case with most actual conversations if taken verbatim.

The key to creating great dialogue, Mr. Hough said in a recent interview, is to first think about it as a craft, “and to make every line do something for you, advance plot, build character, surprise the reader. Hold yourself to that standard.”

He admits it can be hard, but it can also be enjoyable, even when the subject is sad. Consider this exchange from William Kennedy’s Ironweed.

“Whatever you been up to?” Rudy asked. “You know somebody buried up there?”

“A little kid I used to know.”

“A kid? What’d he do, die young?”

“Pretty young.”

“What happened to him?”

“He fell.”

“He fell where?”

“He fell on the floor.”

“Hell, I fall on the floor about twice a day and I ain’t dead.”

“That’s what you think,” Francis said.

Although Mr. Hough has taught writing for a long time he hadn’t given much thought to putting what he teaches down in book form until an editor at Skyhorse Publishing called him and urged him to consider it. Mr. Hough had been traveling off-Island for the past few years to host a series of weekend writing seminars specifically to lawyers and doctors who were interested in becoming fiction writers. The courses took place twice a year, usually in Falmouth. One of Mr. Hough’s former students sold a book to Skyhorse Publishing and was talking to his editor about how much Mr. Hough’s lessons on dialogue had helped him. This book is essentially a handheld version of Mr. Hough’s classes, and in it he proves why he is such a good teacher. He is thorough and thoughtful, but most of all his enthusiasm for the subject comes through on every page.

There are chapters on the basic mechanics of dialogue and why ending everything with said is much more preferable than giving a descriptor such as he said earnestly. There are chapters on dialect and accents and the benefits and problems of using these devices. There is even a nod to the exclamation point. Don’t use them. Or as William Maxwell, longtime editor at The New Yorker, said, “a writer should be permitted one exclamation point in his or her career.”

And throughout the book Mr. Hough holds up the masters to prove a point, whether to show how dialogue should reveal character and increase tension, how short exchanges are usually the best or how dialogue can be used to quicken or slow down the pace of a scene.

Here is Hemingway in typical quick release prose from The Killers — to the point yet elusive, and always surprising.

“He comes in here to eat every night, don’t he?”

“Sometimes he comes here.”

“If he comes.”

“We know all that, bright boy,” Max said. “Talk about something else. Ever go to the movies?”

“Once in a while.”

“You ought to go to the movies more. The movies are fine for a bright boy like you.”

“What are you going to kill Ole Andreson for? What did he do to you?”

“He never had a chance to do anything to us. He never even seen us.”

Mr. Hough will be holding a talk at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Friday, March 20, beginning at 7 p.m. He will, of course, talk about his book but he has other plans in store, too. “I’d like it to be a workshop,” he said. “For writers to come and even argue with me if they want.”

But before anyone plans to debate Mr. Hough, they should brush up on some good dialogue writing, and this book is the perfect place to start.

“Note how the words fall together,” Mr. Hough writes in his book. “Study cadence, the ebb and flow of speeches, listening as you read.”

And now comes the hard part, choosing a piece of dialogue from the book to end with. There are so many examples that reveal the results of holding each word up to the light before laying it down on the page, clean or dirty, ragged or eloquent, but most of all original.

Here is a passage by Kent Haruf, from his book Plainsong. Mr. Haruf died this past November, but his words live on to delight and instruct us.

“He was nice to me. He would tell me things.”

“Would he?”

“Yes. He told me things.”

“Like what for instance?”

“Like once he said I had beautiful eyes. He said my eyes were like black diamonds lit up on a starry night.”

“They are, honey.”

“But nobody ever told me.”

“No,” Maggie said. “They never do.” She looked out through the doorway into the other room. She lifted her teacup and drank it and set it down. “Go on, she said. Do you want to tell the rest?”