D is for Dialogue #AtoZChallenge

Chat Me Up: Using Dialogue to Move the Story Forward

A guest post by Chris Redding

Dialogue in a story performs several functions in a story including showing us character. Your dialogue needs to seem natural and it needs to move the story forward. Your dialogue needs to have the elements of the story including conflict. Dialogue passages are not random. They serve a purpose. They have a beginning, middle and end.

For a playwright, dialogue is of the utmost importance because it is within that dialogue that the story is told. For a filmmaker, it is less important because that is a visual medium. For a novelist, it’s somewhere in between. The words the characters speak are one piece of the puzzle, but the dialogue still needs to make sense.

Dialogue is how we hear the feelings, mind, and nature of the character.

Dialogue advances the story. It reveals the characters. To advance the story, the dialogue reflects the current circumstances and needs, reveals future considerations and retells of past events. What the character says can reinforce or contradict what is going on around them in the narrative of the book.

We talk because we want something. Your characters needs to want something otherwise they have no reason to talk. And when we learn that sometimes we don’t get what we want, we figure out more complex speech to obtain what we want. For instance, if asking for a cookie right before dinner does not get us a cookie, we figure out how to say it so we do get the cookie. This is not straightforward speech. We are hiding our agendas in what we say. To successfully write dialogue for a character, you need to know what that character wants. The character going about getting what he/she wants is what advances the story.

I’ve touched on how to use dialogue in a story, but how do you write dialogue? Listen. I’m going to send you on a field trip. Go to a coffee house or Starbucks, whatever. Get your favorite hot beverage and sit. Now just listen. You don’t have to eavesdrop though you may get come story ideas that way.

What you are listening for is the rhythm of the conversations. An argument will have a different rhythm than two people on a first date. Then write some dialogue. Write a fight. That would be the most fun. Then read it out loud. If you can get someone to read it with you. You will know from hearing it whether it is natural. Remember, people don’t always speak in full sentences.

Understand, that dialogue is not real speech, but it must sound natural. It is speech edited to sound like real speech. It has bits and pieces strung together from different things the two people have in common. Dialogue in a book can have none of those unless the purpose of the conversation is to illustrate what the two people share.

In writing dialogue, realize it isn’t real speech, but must be natural, that is must reveal character and that it must advance the story.

Chris Redding lives in New Jersey with her husband, two kids, one dog and three rabbits. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. When she isn't writing, she works part time for her local hospital.

Catch her blog HERE.
Follow her on Twitter: @chrisredding.

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