Dialogue is not filler, nor is it secondary. For readers, dialogue is the illusion of active listening, of ‘looking’ from person to person as the conversation unfolds. There are technical effects from dialogue that support and enhance your story. The following 10 on the 10th blog shares some examples of the important work of dialogue:
1. Develop Plot: To ensure you’re not writing “filler”, give your characters dialogue that moves the plot forward, develop scenes.
"Pete, meet me at Crawley's barn at sunset. I'll bring Billy."
"Want me to bring a gun?"
"Nah. If I find Billy before sunset, we won't need one."
2. Move in Time: When the story needs to shift into a new scene, or you want to cover a period of time without going into detail about that period of time, offer a line that sets up the new scene:
“Good then. I’ll see you next week."
or “So it's settled, we leave at dawn.”
or "Give me an hour or two and I'll call you back."
3. Reveal underlying tensions: Characters, like real people, have emotional baggage and secrets. Dialogue can give a clue that a character has something they’re hiding.
“Just what did you mean by that?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Nothing. Now let’s just move on, okay?”
4. Enrich themes/mood: Characters can help readers pick up on the mood of a piece by what they say.
“I hate this damp and cold. And those dark clouds can only mean
we're in for more rainfall.”
or "Come on, Charlie. Let's jump in every puddle we see."
5. Echo time/era/culture: Dialogue can add authentic details to bring out the story’s genre, culture or time period.
“Ach, lass. Will you no be gettin’ down from there?”
or “My lady, 'tis unseemly to be about at this late hour.”
or "Golly. Is that one of them new tellyvisions?"
6. Establish setting: Setting a scene through description alone can turn into a laundry list of what can be seen. Let dialogue do some of that work so that readers get enough detail to fill in the rest. More importantly, let dialogue help readers to stay connected to characters by “seeing” what they see and with the emotion they see it.
"Zargon! Power up the hyperchute—enter that wormhole!”
or "Bring me that beautiful leather bound volume from the top shelf."
or "Careful now! Mind you don't step in that stinking muck."
7. Imagine geography: Not all stories need large scale world-building but many fantasy, science fiction or quest stories will involve creating a world that readers can believe in. Dialogue helps to make it real because it’s real to the characters.
“Wait. I think I see a body of water through the trees.”
or "This map doesn't show......."
or "That desert's got to be five day's walking or more. And not even
stones or scrub for cover."
8. Reveal facets of character: Dialogue is an active way to reveal character emotions, backstory and motivations.
"Please don't leave me alone with him; I can't go through that again.”
or “How amusing. You dare to speak. Guard—kill him.”
or "I'm going to tell you a secret...."
9. Focus on dynamics: How chracters talk to each other reveals not only clues about each character but also about their relationship with one another.
“You just can’t leave me alone, can you?"
“Ah, but if I did, you’d start to hate me all the more.”
10. Show don’t tell: Dialogue is one of the easiest ways to give tired prose an energy lift, and turn “Tell” into “Show”. And that includes the body language and action beats in between the words. It’s dramatization that the reader can be immersed in, can “hear”, “see” and therefore feel.
Tell: Her father was abusive, but she had long since stopped caring.
Show:"Jesus girl. What's this slop ya call dinner?" Pa swiped the dish from
the table. Ma's best china plate shattered against the door. "And look
what ya made me done now, ya good-for-nothing..."
Mary scooped up a shard and turned to face him, looked Pa square in the
eyes. "You can break me all ya want, Old Man, but ya'll never touch another
thing what belonged to Ma."