Can We Talk?

Sadly, the answer is no. Not if we’re writing dialog. It’s customary for people discussing the craftsmanship in writing to say things like character’s the most important thing in your novel, or point of view can make or break your entire novel. We’ve all heard arguments about how tough it is to maintain or control pace. Etc. In the end, it’s all of the techniques woven into a whole that make a novel either sing or croak. But a key to keeping a reader interested in your characters is the dialog exchanges.

Dialog in a novel bears little similarity to our ordinary conversation. When we talk to someone else our objective isn’t to further a story. If anything, we’re making a point or making a joke or, as the cliche has it, making conversation. Dialog, like everything else in your novel, has to be finely tuned to keep the story moving forward. More, it has to move it at the pace you’ve selected at the moment. If you’re at a point in your story where the tension is at a lowered state, it’s a good idea to match the dialog accordingly. If there’s an argument, try to keep it as civil as possible. In short, how your characters respond to each other on the page has a direct influence on how the reader responds to everything on the page. Consider: If you portray a couple building a relationship and you set a conversation at a beautiful, tranquil site, even a minor disagreement between them can foreshadow trouble to come. It’s the same way a composer can throw in a minor key – or more blatant discord – to create an effect in music.

An author controls what the characters say and how they say it. We make conversation, but we create dialog. Obviously, in everyday speech we do our best to communicate. So do the characters in a novel. The difference is that the attentive author will select language, tone, and character description to assure the speech serves the overall needs of the novel. General chit-chat doesn’t help.

Dialog is a fine way to reveal character. Interior dialog tells us things we could never otherwise know. The language a character uses defines him/her – in the eyes of the other characters, but not necessarily in the eyes of the reader. And, most certainly, not necessarily accurately. We all know Bre’r Rabbit and his rustic, dialectic dialog. If you take it at face value, he’s a traditional hick. But what he says and does makes us know he’s a cunning trickster. Dialog in the hands of a practiced author can give us insight into a grand shell game – one hand manipulates the walnut shells and the other one slips the pea out of sight. In short, dialog should contribute to every aspect of your work. It defines character, it establishes pace, it creates or dissipates tension, it contributes to suspense and story. A novel is a matter of people interacting with other people; without good dialog, that interaction will never ring true.

2 comments

  1. I wish your son , our son-in-law would take up writing again….follow in his fathers footsteps. Perhaps that should be his fathers hand movements.?

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