Crafting Memorable Dialogue #2

Mannequins are boring conversationalists. Animate your characters with memorable dialogue.
Mannequins are boring conversationalists. Animate your characters with memorable dialogue.

by Joni Fisher

(From her article Dialogue Abused and Misused)

Dialogue is designed to perform these functions:

  • Advance the plot. The inciting incident, key turning points, the climax and other important emotional moments have the greatest impact when the events unfold in front of the reader.
  • Build to a change in a relationship, a power shift, or a turning point in the action. Make the talk between characters matter. If the talk does not cause a change or mark a change, then why is it in the story?
  • Create immediacy. The reader experiences the conversation in real time, along with the characters. This allows the reader to feel part of the story by drawing her into the experience.
  • Reveal character. How a character expresses himself changes depending on who he is interacting with—spouse, child, boss, colleague, or adversary. Characters talk differently when under stress or in danger. A person’s character is tested when having to choose between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing.
  • Set the mood to create an emotional impact on the reader. It is better to make the reader cry than to make the characters cry. In dialogue, conversations can be elevated above the commonplace because the writer can craft the dialogue with imagery and precision. Characters can speak bolder, wittier and more insightfully than real people. Brief statements hold the greatest impact.
  • Begin or heighten conflict. It is human nature to desire to witness the action rather than hear about it second hand. If the conversation does not affect the relationship of the characters involved in it, then why is this conversation being played out for the reader? Show the fight scene.
  • Create suspense. The reader knows more than the characters because the reader is privy to all the conversations and actions. Stimulate the reader’s curiosity, raise questions. Characters lie and misunderstand one another in dialogue. The reader enjoys sorting out the liars from the truthful.
  • Move action along swiftly. When the reader goes down the page quickly, it gives the feel of fast action. Dialogue increases the pacing of any scene because things happen when characters meet face to face.
  • Reveal tidbits of the past. Use it like Hansel and Gretel, dropping crumbs to leave a trail. Lead the reader along.

This excerpt is from Joni’s article on her website. You can read more at http://www.jonimfisher.com/dialogue-abused-and-misused/ For a more in-depth study of writing great dialogue register for the REAL STUFF live workshop Crafting Memorable Dialogue on March 31st at 8 pm Eastern and 5 pm Pacific. Register before March 17th and get 5,000 words of your work in progress critiqued. You also get free replay of the workshop and members of Authors Community have access to the private forum to discuss what you’ve learned. Not a member? Register today! The Starter membership is free.

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