Dialogue

What is dialogue?
Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play or film.

Other words used to describe dialogue are conversation, talk, communication, speech, chat and interchange.

In your story, dialogue must appear between what are known as inverted commas (quotation marks). They look like this “ ” and immediately identify a place in the story where people are talking.

What powers does dialogue have?
Scene setting: “We need to get out of here before they get back,” she whispered, terrified. “I came here to find out the truth, I wish I never had…”

Emotion indicators: Fear, anger, sadness, surprise, disgust, shame, envy etc…

For example; Take two emotions – Anger and Pity – and use them to create a conversation between two people...

ANGER: “How dare you treat me like that?” she screamed.
PITY: “I’m sorry that you feel that way, but I am doing this for your own good.”
ANGER: “My own good? I don’t need your pity – stay away from me.”
PITY: “But you do, and if I’d pitied you sooner you might not be in this mess…”

Personality display: Sarcastic, funny, dry, grumpy… You don’t need to say that your character is grumpy if you display this through his dialogue. It should be obvious to the reader by the things that he says, that he is in a grumpy humour.

Pace: Instead of having to walk the reader through everything, dialogue can explain a lot. An outburst can be demonstrated by one character saying to another, “You’ve never dealt with your brother’s death, it’s been three years – you have to move on.”

The death need not be explained – in fact, leaving it unexplained creates an air of mystery that you can feed into the story…

It will also require spelling differently, perhaps phonetically which is the art of writing the sounds of speech. So, more often than not, it is best to avoid.

What is dialogue’s job?
- To provide relevant information
- To create atmosphere
- To enhance flow
- To sound natural

Remember: properly written dialogue has no need for “I said,” “he said” or “she said” after every sentence. It also benefits greatly from a little description to complement the conversation. Both will work to provide further information, move the story on and enhance the pace.

Take the following two paragraphs for example. You will notice that the second version is a lot easier and quicker to read, despite the fact that it doesn’t actually use fewer words…

“I’m hungry,” said Tom.
“Get yourself a snack from the fridge,” said Mum.
“I don’t want a snack, I want my dinner,” said Tom.
“Don’t be cheeky,” said Mum.
“I’m sorry,” said Tom.
“That’s ok, but ask politely next time,” said Mum.
“Ok, can I have my dinner please?” said Tom.
“Not yet,” said Mum.

“I’m hungry,” said Tom.
“Get yourself a snack from the fridge,” Mum answered.
“I don’t want a snack, I want my dinner.”
“Don’t be cheeky.”
“I’m sorry,” Tom looked sheepish.
“That’s ok, but ask politely next time.”
“Ok, can I have my dinner please?”
“Not yet!” Mum laughed, and so Tom laughed too.

Once you have mastered dialogue, it will further improve your ability to write a story with characters that your reader will connect with more easily.

EXERCISE

To practice your dialogue writing go to Week 2/Exercise Sheet 2.
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