When writing my novels I love to write dialogue and I have from my earliest days of writing. I feel that dialogue is almost like holding modeling clay in my hands as I use it to make my story and my characters come alive.
I once gave a writing assignment to the students of one of my adult fiction-writing classes. I challenged them to write a scene depicting an altercation they might have had recently. I stated that the altercation might have been with a mother-in-law, or a washing-machine repairman. The who did not matter. The prerequisite was that it be an incident where there was a strong difference of opinion. I then instructed them to use plenty of dialogue in the scene they created.
The resulting assignments that I read through gave a clear indication that my group of fledgling authors had not yet grasped the difference between conversation and dialogue. Many of the assignments turned in were verbatim replicates of conversations that had taken place.
“That’s How It Happened”
When I pointed out that fact, the general responses were something like: “But that’s how it happened.” Or, “I wrote it just as it happened.”
This then provided the perfect opportunity to remind them that the assignment had been to write dialogue not exchanges of conversation.
Conversations whip around us like little whirlwinds every day of our lives. Either we are involved in those conversations, or we eavesdrop on those conversations.
“How are you?”
“What’ve you been doing lately?”
This is conversation, but it’s not dialogue. Conversation is merely an exchange of information. For instance:
“Where do you live?”
“I live at 312 Boston Street.”
Dialogue, on the other hand, brings in an added dimension.
“You live around here?”
“Yeah, if you call this living.”
Functions of Dialogue
The key to writing good dialogue is to always remember that any and all dialogue must contribute to the story itself. Empty exchanges that go nowhere and tell nothing will suck life right out of a novel. Dull conversation will bring all action to a grinding halt. Dialogue should serve as your tool to build reader interest and apprehension.
Below are the six main functions of story dialogue.
- Moves Story Forward
- Adds to the Mood
- Builds Tension
- Gives Life to Characters
- Establishes the Setting
Once you know these purposes and begin to integrate them into your use of fiction, your style of writing will begin to take on a life of its own. Do a check today on the dialogue in your novel-in-progress. How are you doing?
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