Dialogue is the stuff your characters say (exterior dialogue) or think (interior dialogue), usually found in speech marks or italics. Dialogue is immediate, it is what your characters are thinking or feeling as the story unfolds. It helps strengthen the reader’s sense of participating in the story and helps the reader become attached to the characters and care about them. It is also a vehicle for putting across information and backstory.
Dialogue is an especially wonderful tool for introducing information without long and wordy passages of exposition that would lose your reader. Dialogue can be used to move the action along, inform the reader of backstory, explain the character’s actions, show their feelings, and show their character traits.
Never, ever use dialogue in the same way you might chitchat to the person next to you in the supermarket queue – like every word in your story, dialogue should have meaning, should take your story ahead. It should be woven into your story.Here's an example of how NOT to do dialogue.
She: Would you like a cup of tea?
He: Yes, please.
She: Would you like sugar?
He: Yes, please.
She: Would you like milk?
He: Yes, please
She: Did you murder my sister?
See what an unlikely bit of dialogue that would be? But when we combine it with description:
Steve poured two mugs of coffee, holding one out to her. Kelsey struck the mug from his hand, snarling: “Did you kill my sister?”
Dialogue is ingenious for giving backstory:
Ted handed her a wad of tissues. “Kelsey, everyone’s worried about you. I know you’ve been upset since your sister died, but isn’t it time you pulled yourself together? You can’t go around accusing people of murder.”
What do backstory do we learn from the above piece of dialogue?
* Kelsey’s sister has died.
*Kelsey is still very upset.
*She believes someone murdered her sister
*Her friends are worried about her
*Ted is very concerned about her
* Ted is close enough to her to be able to speak to her like this, possibly her boss, a close friend, relative, or lover.
See how much information we’re able to get in using dialogue? To put this backstory, etc., in as narrative would have taken several paragraphs, whereas it’s very immediate as dialogue, and moves the story along without interrupting the action.
Dialogue properly and imaginatively used can deepen your characters, give backstory in tiny bites without boring your reader, move the plot along, add color...so very versatile!
This blog is an excerpt from my writing book, Naked Writing: The No Frills Way to Write Your Book!