We writers often think dialogue should be the easiest aspect of storytelling. I mean, we talk all the time IRL. So conversations between your characters are a no-brainer. You may not give these conversations much thought, but today let’s think about what good dialogue can do for your story.
As an editor, I find dialogue to be one of the biggest hurdles writers face and they don’t even realize it. Why? Dialogue is much more than what your characters say to each other. It’s what helps you create compelling and engaging characters.
Let me ask you this: What is the purpose of dialogue? To break up long blocks of text? To hear characters in their own words? To keep the plot moving? Yes to all of those things, but those are the end results.
Understanding the purpose of dialogue in your story will help you write sharp, focused conversations that keeps readers riveted to your story. I like to narrow the scope scene by scene because it feels more manageable. First, as you start writing (or revising!) a scene, ask yourself the objective or goal for the scene.
Then tailor the dialogue in that scene to focus on one or more of the following five things:
- Reveal something about your character’s personality—directly and indirectly (also known as subtext). Knowing who your character is and what they want will go a long way to creating conversations that highlight their personality and worldview.
- Add to the reader’s understanding of the situation. Understanding is different from mere facts. Conversation shouldn’t be a recap of what is happening, it should be expanding our knowledge of why it is happening.
- Keep the pace of the story moving forward. This one is obvious, but it’s easy to forget. Every word your characters say should have a reason for being said. This means that there is little room for filler, small talk, and pleasantries.
- Dramatize relationships between characters, which can be different for different characters. For example, a character might speak differently with a parent than with a co-worker.
- Be true to the world of your story. Conversations should take location, time period, and characters into account, minus the cliche.
Dialogue is a wonderful tool to create memorable characters and exciting scenes. Use it to the fullest!
Let’s continue the conversation (get it?) over in our Creative Writing Resources FB group where we’ll be discussing dialogue all month.