“What Is the Purpose of the Dialogue in Your Story?” by Joan Y. Edwards
What is the purpose of the dialogue in your story?
Nathan Bransford says: Good dialogue has a purpose and builds toward something. A good conversation is an escalation.
Ginny Wiehardt says: Break Up Dialogue with Action.
Remind your reader that your characters are human by letting them know the characteristics of their physical world: sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch, and the aura it creates for them.
Physical details break up the ping-pong talking heads dialogue on the page. Add action, reaction, and description of place. Dialogue separates long passages of description. It makes it easier to read a page.
Does dialogue serve more than one purpose in your story?
Here are ten things dialogue can do. I think dialogue must do the first 6 and sometimes 7-10. What do you think?
- Advance the story plot and/or use conflict to change direction of plot
- Highlight character desire and motivation
- Create voice and tone, either for story or character
- Provide understanding of the gradual enlightenment and insight of characters
- Meet rhythmic necessity of human speech compatible with characters, time, and place of story.
- Add drama by showing escalating, increasing conflict and the resulting actions and reactions
- Emphasize theme or meaning
- Show time transition, usually subtle
- Create atmosphere, mood, and/or ambiance that is distinctive of the setting
- Inform the audience, but too much at one time about the plot, character’s history (backstory), setting, and theme
Let’s check the dialogue of a best selling novel:
“Ok. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s only a Visa bill.” Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella.
- It let’s us know that there’s a problem with the main character’s Visa bill.
- It illuminates the main problem of the main character that the rest of the story is how she keeps trying not to pay this bill.
- It highlights the theme of the story.
- If the bill isn’t paid, it creates drama.
- It informs the audience.
- The words and rhythm hints that it’ll be a comedy.
To improve your writing of dialogue, read the books of authors noted for writing great dialogue:
Meredith Borders named ten authors who write great dialogue. Here are three of them: Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, and Douglas Adams. Read her article for all 10 and examples of their dialogue.
Taylor Holmes lists Top 10 Best Dialogue Movies: Here are the first three: #1 Pulp Fiction #2 American Beauty, and #3 Reality Bites. Read her article for all 10 and dialogue excerpts, too.
Check three dialogue passages in one of your own stories. Does your dialogue serve more than one purpose? I’ll bet it does.
- Ali Hale. “Dialogue-Writing Tips.” http://www.dailywritingtips.com/dialogue-writing-tips/
- Ali Luke. “10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Dialogue:” http://writetodone.com/2011/12/12/10-easy-ways-to-improve-your-dialogue/
- Dorian Scott Cole. “What about Dialogue, Is it Visual?” http://www.visualwriter.com/
- Dr. MaryAnn Diorio. “Writing Great Dialogue:” http://thewritepower.blogspot.com/2012/07/friday-fix-craft-writing-great-dialogue.html
- Dr. Stan Steiner. “Dr. Stan Steiner’s Suggested Children’s books:” http://idahoptv.org/dialogue/booklistSteiner.cfm
- Erin. “Dialogue Dos and Don’ts:” http://www.dailywritingtips.com/dialogue-dos-and-donts/
- Frederic Raphael. “Frederick Raphael’s Top 10 Talkative Novels:” http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/mar/09/frederic-raphael-talkative-novels
- Ginny Wiehardt. “Top 8 Tips for Writing Dialogue:” http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/crafttechnique/tp/dialogue.htm
- Meredith Borders. “Top 10 Authors Who Write Great Dialogue.” http://litreactor.com/columns/top-10-authors-who-write-great-dialogue
- Nathan Bransford. “Seven Keys to Writing Good Dialogue:” http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/09/seven-keys-to-writing-good-dialogue.html
- Stephen Parolini. “How to Write Good Dialogue:” http://www.noveldoctor.com/2011/05/04/how-to-write-good-dialogue/
- Taylor Holmes. “Top 10 Best Dialogue Movies:” http://taylorholmes.com/2011/03/09/top-10-best-dialogue-movies/
- Tom Nissley. Ephemeral Firmament blog. “Good Talking in Books:” http://ephemeralfirmament.typepad.com/ephemeral-firmament/2011/06/fortnightly-firmament-4-good-talking-in-books.html
- Tsh. “10 Great Authors in Children’s Literature.” http://simplemom.net/10-great-authors-in-childrens-literature/
- William H. Coles. “Essays-Dialogue” http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/dialogue/
- William H. Coles. “Literary Fiction Workshop.” http://literaryfictionworkshop.com/
- Dr. Stan Steiner. “Dr. Stan Steiner’s Suggested Children’s books” http://idahoptv.org/dialogue/booklistSteiner.cfm
- New York Public Library. “100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know:” http://kids.nypl.org/reading/recommended2.cfm?ListID=61
Pretend you are an editor or agent. Try these pitch exercises – one click.
9 questions page 1; 1 question page 2; answers on page 3.
Pitch Exercise #1 Books and Movies – Mixed Genres:
Pitch Exercise #2 Books and Movies – Romance:
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