Tag Archive - dialogue

Using Dialogue in Scenes to Reveal Character

Dialogue is perhaps the best tool in the writer’s toolbox. Through it, writers can reveal things about character and plot, set up and amplify conflict and stakes, create mystery and microtension, and so much more—and this is why it merits a lot of attention.

Yes, dialogue always serves more than one purpose—more than merely conveying information. Fiction writers should want to learn skills and methods to help them pack dialogue with as much punch as possible.

Dialogue is also extremely difficult to do well. It has to be condensed and distilled to be effective. Great dialogue in fiction is hardly realistic or exact; it infers more than it states. In essence, it’s stylized for effect.

That’s why you can’t merely listen to people’s conversations and copy them down verbatim and use them in your scenes. Much of conversation is boring, repetitive, rambling, and full of extraneous words that clutter.

Use Dialogue to Reveal Character

What I want to talk about for a bit is the way dialogue can replace character description and create an impression without the narrative “telling” that is so often maligned (and usually for good reason).

When we both listen and watch someone speak, we pick up a lot of information that is inferred by the listener. With characters, not only can other characters infer and react to what the speaker is saying and what their body language is conveying (those can be and are often two wildly different things), the reader infers as well. Continue Reading…

Writing Authentic Dialogue in Memoir

Dialogue is the epitome of “showing” instead of telling. Dialogue brings characters to life and engages readers. If we have no dialogue in our “scenes,” those long descriptive paragraphs will get boring. These basic tenets apply to fiction as well as in memoir.

Dialogue adds “white space” to our pages, makes the reading move quickly, and helps keep our story from becoming cumbersome.

But dialogue can be boring, right? And who can accurately remember every word of a conversation? If you’ve ever had a fight with a friend or spouse, you know that it only takes a minute or two to forget something that had just been said—especially when it’s a hot, emotional argument. I’ve often blurted, “But you just said . . . !” and my spouse replied, “No way! I did not!”

Needless to say, we often have selected memory.

Unless you have tape-recorded every moment of your past, you are not going to remember, word for word, what was said. Continue Reading…

Handling Backstory in Dialogue in Your Opening Pages

So many new writers start their books with pages—even chapters—of backstory. They want to tell the reader all about the creation of their fantasy world. Or they want to make sure readers understand every nuance of Mexican politics in 1956 because it will be critical to the plot on page 103. They want to make sure the reader understands every feature of time travel or cloning in the year 2133.

Then their editor suggests that instead of including all this material in the opening chapters of their book, they should just reveal the backstory through dialogue. Aha, the author thinks, dialogue—of course! After all, dialogue is a great way to open in media res and cut to the good stuff. But instead of jettisoning their precious descriptions and explanations, they essentially put quotation marks around the same ponderous material.

Problem solved, right? Wrong.

None of your characters should talk like the narrator. And readers still don’t want a backstory dump—even in dialogue. Often the attempt to stuff backstory into dialogue results in long, tedious monologues instead of more believable two-way conversation. Continue Reading…