The toolbox topic this month is dialogue – now, that’s not just a couple of heads having a chat or an argument – and it created a lot of discursive discussion and the occasional heated opinion. That’s life in a group of people who want to understand the best way to put the story out there in the format that makes it most powerful, most connected, the most ‘real.’
Dialogue is so much more than the character (or characters) talking, putting words between quotation marks. If the dialogue in the story doesn’t do something (whether that is clear or not at this stage of the story), then it probably shouldn’t be there at all. Dialogue does need to do something. For a start, it needs to be a true and unique reflection of that character: how they speak, why and when they speak, the words and sentence structure they use, and the hidden or sub-textual meanings or hints.
Tags and pronouns need careful consideration. Do we (the reader) know who the ‘he’ or ‘she’ refers to – has the name been used in the right place to enable a smooth flow of understanding with no need for the reader to go back a step, or a scene, or . . . (worst) stop reading?
If the dialogue is read out with ‘actors’ in the roles, doing the actions and making the moves, does it make sense? Does it do or create the mood or sense that is required for that moment in the story?
Consider the work dialogue must do in story:
First – speak for the character in the voice and tone and POV of the character (their personality); it needs to move the story in a direction (or misdirection); provides information that is new or necessary (but only by following the principles of POV and personality); it should (must) ensure the conflict issue is front and centre, being dealt with (or not); it will reveal character, either by what they say or don’t say, or conversations they avoid (silence is a conversation); and it is an element that allows the most emotion to be brought forward by that character. It can be used to foreshadow (in tiny little bits), to enhance tension and to set the tone of the scene.
Above all, dialogue will make the story interesting if it is true to POV character and does the three most important things: move the story in a direction, put information (subtly – no tell or exposition in dialogue please), and deepens the conflict.
Go ahead, try it – see how easy it isn’t!