Dialogue serves several different purposes:
2. Moves the story along
3. Creates Tension
4. Sets a mood
As far as Characterization is concerned, Jane Austen was genius. If you’ve ever read any of her writing, you’ll discover that dialogue was as much a part of the character as his/her thoughts. Jane wasn’t prone to describing physical features of her characters, except maybe some ‘fine eyes’ here and ‘handsome features’ there, but she took the meat of the character and allowed the reader to figure him/her out.
For example, in Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Collins is known for rattling on about various things, basically just to hear himself talk. The reader quickly realizes Mr. Collins is a pompous, self-important man…just from his letter. Wow! On the other hand, Darcy and Elizabeth give short, witty replies – and we end of liking them. It reveals characteristics of the one speaking and the ones responding to it. Within the first few pages of Pride and Prejudice, readers have a ‘handle’ on about six different characters mainly through…dialogue.
Dialogue moves the story along, especially if you feel your getting ‘saggy’ in the middle. It should ALWAYS add to the story, never ending up as a bunch of empty words, and it also can cover lots of information in a short amount of time.
Obviously, dialogue can create tension. Here’s a scene from Julie Lessman’s novel A Passion Denied.
He jumped up. “Beth, forgive me, please, and don’t cry. We can pray about this-“
Disbelief paralyzed her for a painful second. “No! You leave me be. I don’t want any more of your prayers-“
His hand gripped her. “Beth, please, sit with me? Can’t we just talk and work this out?”
This is only a short example, but poignant – it shows the speed dialogue adds to a manuscript.
Here’s another example from Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist.
He walked directly to Essie and snatched the sash she was stitching out of her hands.
“You’re coming with me,” he said.
“I’m sick and tired of playing second fiddle to a bicycle race. I want to go to the soda shop, and I want to go right now.”
She pulled the sash back into her lap. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve got more to do than I can possibly finishe before Saturday arrives. I can no more go to –“
He reached down, pulled her to her feet, then leaned so close he could count her eyelashes. “Put that sash down, Esther Spreckelmeyer.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you bully me. I will not leave my members in their time of need.”
“You wanna make a bet?”
Finally, dialogue sets a mood. Ddialogue can be set up to create fear in thrillers, sizzle in romances, and care-freeness in comedies.
Stand in Groom by Kaye Dacus, “Nothing like running late to make a wonderful first impression.”
Sneak Peek into Steven James’ new book The Knight, “The sad, ripe odor of death seeped from the entrance to the abandoned mine.”
If sentences can set moods, just imagine what an entire scene of dialogue can do.
Talk isn’t cheap, btw. It takes time to craft good dialogue, but it’s worth it. Just remember to ask these questions.
1. What does this say about my characters without ‘saying’ it outloud?
2. Does this dialogue move my story along or is it just a filler phrase?
3. Is there some sort of energy in the dialogue, whether good or bad, to keep me interested in what the characters are saying?
4. Does this dialogue set the sort of mood I want to present?
There are many more tips to writing dialogue, but these are a few to help build a memorable scene.