CREATING DYNAMIC DIALOGUE
Too many writers use dialogue to fill up space on a page or to pad their word count. As a result, the overall effect is that of a sleeping pill. No reader wants to eavesdrop on the banal, incoherent utterings that, most often, resemble conversations that take place daily on public transportation, in line at the grocery store or at work. For dialogue to work, it must create interest, intrigue, or offer insight into the characters involved in the story. The following tips should help writers gauge whether their dialogue is dynamic or dull.
DOES IT REFLECT YOUR CHARACTERS?
The best way to get to know a person is to listen to what they say, and dialogue allows readers to get to know a story’s characters in a way that is more descriptive than having the author tell about them. For instance, there are only so many ways to tell your audience that a particular character lacked common sense, but to have the character gush about winning a bidding war on eBay for a chunk of limestone pretty well clinches it. Dialogue allows the writer to show, rather than tell about, the character in a story. This adds depth to a character that description alone doesn’t cultivate.
This demands consistency, of course. One of the biggest flaws in writing dialogue is that the writer tends to interject his or her own personality into the character, and suddenly you find the dolt described above rendering a soliloquy worthy of Hamlet. Study the way real people talk, and incorporate that into the dialogue you write. Does your Aunt Minnie continually use redundancies, such as “6 a.m. in the morning,” or “true facts”? Character quirks have to be maintained throughout the story for any dialogue to ring true.
DOES IT DRIVE THE STORY?
The following script is an example of poor use of dialogue:
“Nothing. What are you doing?”
“I’m at the mall”
“I’ll meet you there. What store?”
Although the conversation may be realistic, it lacks any “stickiness” and does not seem to have any direction. Compare this to the following:
“Hi. Where are you...and why are you whispering?”
“I’m at the mall. I think somebody’s following me.”
“Where can I meet you? I’ll be there soon as possible.”
“Marshall’s. I’ll be browsing the spring dresses.”
Clearly, this exchange engages the reader, and sets up several possible scenarios. Does the caller “disappear without a trace?” Does her friend show up, only to find the caller having a psychotic breakdown? Who is the person following her, and why are they following? This is an example of dialogue driving the story.
This dialogue serves two important purposes; it creates a segue from one scene to another, and builds the reader’s interest, rather than merely filling up space on the page. Readers can “get inside the head” of the protagonist and become part of the action. One aspect of quality writing is the ability to create an emotional response in the reader, and good dialogue does this handily.
So, watch your words! Make sure that your characters speak in a way that matches their background and environment, and be sure that what they say communicates essentials to your readers. You’ll say more with those few lines of dialogue than you could with a paragraph of description.
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