Dialogue – Writing the Words Characters Say.

When writing dialogue, there are certain considerations that a writer must make. Jack Smith, in the book Crafting Dynamic Dialogue, distils these considerations down to three questions that an author should answer.

  • Does it reveal character?
  • Does it reveal conflict?
  • Will it keep the reader’s interest?

If dialogue does not deliver character, conflict, and interest, it has failed and would be best cut and placed in the file of forgotten prose.  Those three considerations are primary, but there is no reason to stop there. Eventually, all stories must be edited, and good dialogue must be honed to a fine edge. Laura van den Berg uses certain revision strategies to hone here dialogue. Before changing a word, she asks, “Where is the tension?” Tension is the fulcrum of conflict, and that tension makes good dialogue stand out. Where is the arc? We discuss plot character arc, here. Good dialog m must push the arc forward. If the story does not move, it falls flat on its backside. Finally, van den Berg asks, what is the subtext? No one ever says everything. What happens under the surface of a conversation is as important as the words themselves.

Other Questions:

Am I giving away too much? A writer must know what the conversations is supposed to reveal. Don’t give away the novel in a few spoken words.

Does this conversation go somewhere? As with every other element in a story, the Conversation must be necessary. It must reveal something important, and, when possible, fill more than one purpose.

Is there too much repetition in speech? Conversations need to be condensed so that the minimum number of words are used.

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