We end the month with another very important and delicate topic in writing, dialogue. It has the power to make your story compelling or down right boring.
Before we dive into the question of how to write dialogue that works let’s look at what dialogue is.
Dialogue is a discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem
So dialogue is words exchanged between two or more people? Yes.
But dialogue can also occur between a single person and in the manner of thought.
And those words carry a purpose which is the intent to resolve a dilemma or state something? Yes again.
Dialogue always carries a purpose whether it is to cheer someone up, express your dissatisfaction with something, or explain a misunderstanding. These are only but a few reasons dialogue takes place and that is one of the most important facts writers tend to forget.
With that in mind let’s move on.
Dialogue is essential to the story because it helps to advance the plot, it reveals character and theme. It adds to the action by extending and intensifying it. It organizes and expresses what a character is feeling and doing.
Take the examples below. (This is an excerpt from my series The Five Kingdoms of Severi without the dialogue.)
Toren gasped, the thought of her son rushing through her mind. She glanced around the empty room and moved to the edge of the bed. Another thought filled her mind. She bolted to her feet and stormed out of her chambers. A shout broke out behind her and mingled with the sound of her pounding footsteps. Another shout joined the first as the guards gave chase. She gave the guards no heed, the warning bell in her head increasing with each step she took towards her son’s room. The magic that had healed her could belong to none other than her son’s Royal Protector. Edwin and Alden were in the castle.
The scene is pretty much fast paced in itself and is full of action. But there are many questions that arise. Why did the guards shout when Toren left her chambers and why did they give chase?
Now let’s add the dialogue back in and extend the scene.
Alden,” Toren gasped, the thought of her son rushing through her mind. She glanced around the empty room and moved to the edge of the bed. Another thought filled her mind. “Edwin,” she whispered, bolting to her feet as soon as the name escaped her lips. She stormed out of her chambers.
A shout broke out behind her and mingled with the sound of her pounding footsteps. Another shout joined the first as the guards gave chase.
“My Lady, you must remain in your chambers by orders of the King,” one of the guards called out to her.
She gave the guards no heed, the warning bell in her head increasing with each step she took towards her son’s room. The magic that had healed her could belong to none other than her son’s Royal Protector. Edwin and Alden were in the castle.
Dialogue helps to change the pace. In this case it helps to explain why the guard’s made chase and thus adds to the tension. The reader now knows that Toren was to remain in her chambers by the orders of the king and is someone important by the way the guard addressed her. And now we have Toren’s desire to reach her son’s chamber come face to face with the danger of getting caught.
We now have tension within tension.
Once again, dialogue helps express what is happening and adds to it. By making sure it does its job you create dialogue that works.
Another thing to remember is to use the right tone for each scene and situation, the right tone for each character, and the right conversation at the right time. As per the example above, the guard addresses the woman as ‘My Lady.’ We know that she is someone important, maybe even royalty, and it also gives us a hint at the setting of the story.
Here is another example of how dialogue can help express the characteristics of a character.
“I will take your silence as your approval,” Lucius jested, moving closer to Kale. “Just imagine the devastation and fear their mass numbers will bring.”
Kale’s jaw tightened, his hands formed into fists, as his eyes turned back to the man who had robbed him of everything. “You will still lose,” he said, his vision turning blood red and his words coated with the pure hatred resonating in him.
“Really?” Lucius replied, the twinkle in his eyes revealing his renewed interest. “I show you our wonderful army and you still believe Severi has a chance?” A smirk crossed his lips. “Maybe it did before, but you have ensured its destruction crushing any hope it had.”
The reader is made aware that Lucius is evil. Through dialogue it is expressed how profound his darkness extends. It is shown the joy the man takes in his plan to kill many. That is a perfect example of ‘show, don’t tell.’
So in turn, instead of simply writing that a character struggles with talking to women you can show it by including a scene where the character struggles to do just that. Dialogue is a huge part of a novel and using it correctly helps add depth and realism.
Keep the dialogue to the point.
Include dialogue that will extend and intensify the action.
If the dialogue has no purpose take it out.