Learning the Basics of Dialogue

000000Engaging in Dialogue

by Miss Katz

Writing believable dialogue can make or break a story. By the time you finish reading this article, you will understand good dialogue rules… and when you can break them.

Dialogue is an essential part of every story. Properly written, it will move the story forward, bring characters to life, reveal their quirks, and engage your readers.

The Encarta World English Dictionary defines dialogue as “the words spoken by characters in a book, a film, or a play, or a section of a work that contains spoken words.”

Dialogue has several functions:

♥          To express through conversations what the reader must know so they can understand the character’s actions, motivations and thoughts.

♥          To convey character which shows the reader what kind of people make up the story.

♥          To give the reader a sense of time and place through speech patterns, dialect, vocabulary and rhythms of certain kinds of people.

♥          And finally to develop conflict.

Effective dialogue is all about the natural flow of conversation. Sticking to the rules of grammar will make your character’s speech stilted and dry. Dialogue should flow as easy as conversation between two old housewives gossiping over a fence. Here are some simple guidelines.

♥          People speak in partial sentences and phrases.

♥          They don’t always speak with proper grammar.

♥          Use words and word patterns that reveal your character’s age, gender, region, ethnicity and/or historical time period.

♥          Give your characters individuality and personality through their spoken words.

♥          Write dialogue as you hear conversations in real life. Too much description can be very distracting. To avoid this over zealousness, keep it simple.

Let’s look at the scene between Mammy and Miss Scarlett in chapter five of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

“Now, Miss Scarlett, you be good an’ come eat jes’a lil.  Miss Carreen an’ Miss Suellen done eat all dey’n.”

When you watch this kind of scene in a movie, it is good acting, but when a reader has to wade through pages of it, it’s plain murder. Try reading “Brer Rabbit” some time!

Far and few between are times when an experienced author should write this type of language. Irish brogue, for example, is a monster to read. Stay in the well-defined terms of simple dialogue and your readers will thank you.

While it is true that people talk for hours on end without stopping to admire scenery, it doesn’t work that way in writing stories. As a general rule of thumb, you should insert a break that describes scenery, setting, or builds a character every three or four paragraphs of dialogue.

Use good taste in your dialogue. Long scenes of children arguing won’t keep your reader interested, although children do argue in real life.

To write believable dialogue, sit in train stations, buses, or a restaurant and listen to people talk. Take notes when you can (keeping in mind that you’ll stay healthier, longer, if they don’t see you doing it).

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4 thoughts on “Learning the Basics of Dialogue

  1. I’ll be honest, I detest it. lol I never even thought about trying to enjoy it! I read Brer Rabbit when I was a kid and that did me in for life. Thanks for the comment, Michelle. Anybody else like reading accents? Deb

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  2. I absolutely love trying to read accents in books. Hagrid’s dialogue was my favourite. I would read a sentence, stare at it in bafflement for a few seconds, then read it again out loud, trying to figure out what the heck he was saying. It’s fun when you do it once in a while … but if all the characters are borderline incomprehensible, it get’s a bit tiresome 🙂

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