At first glance, writing dialogue seems easy. After all, I have conversations with people multiple times a day, whether I’m debating with my husband on what flowers to put in the garden, asking the kids about their school day, or talking to a friend on the phone. Transcribing those conversations onto paper should be easy, right?
Not so fast. Writing dialogue requires more finesse than simply writing down what I hear. Reading a verbatim conversation between myself and my ten-year-old would be a good cure for insomnia, but it definitely wouldn’t compel the reader to turn the page in a story. A real-life conversation goes something like this:
Me: “How was school today?”
Me: “What did you do?”
Me: “What kind of stuff?”
Kid: “I dunno. Regular stuff.”
Snore. Who wants to read that? I sure don’t.
Not only is the entire exchange boring, but we don’t learn anything from the conversation. Dialogue not only needs to move at a good pace to keep the reader interested, but it needs to provide information to move the story forward. Here’s an alternate conversation:
Me: “Everything go all right at school today? You look upset.”
Kid: “Naw, I’m good.” Pause. “Only Mark found out I like Becky and tried to punch me, so I punched him. Oh yeah, the principal wants to talk to you.”
Okay, not the most thrilling exchange ever, but certainly better than the earlier example. New characters have been introduced. There’s conflict brewing with the principal and between Mark and the kid. Things are happening.
And that’s the point of effective dialogue. To make things happen, whether it’s a quiet exchange between two characters who are contemplating their successes in life or an all-out shouting match fraught with passion and anger between a husband and wife on the brink of divorce.
Dialogue lets you learn more about the characters and how they interact with other people. It’s a way to supply information and backstory without weighing down a story with long blocks of prose. When used effectively, dialogue is a wonderful tool for any writer.