Contributing authors: Team Efi Loo
Being able to create dialogue, which is meaningful and believable while at the same time moving the plot forward and helping to build character development, can be one of the greatest challenges an author faces. It’s also one of the most important skills for a writer to have in their writer’s toolbox. Why? Because dialogue is one of the most versatile tools there is when it comes to making your characters come alive and connecting them to the reader!
Dialogue has three main purposes: move the plot forward, connect readers to whom the characters really are or to achieve both. In other words, things should never come to a dead end once a character starts talking.
Recently, we explored scene and sequel where we discovered how scenes help to move the plot along. Often times, this is done using exposition; however, using dialogue can be very effective in helping to advance the scene.
When it comes to describing setting, dialogue is a great tool to use in place of conventional exposition. So, for example, instead of using exposition to describe the scene:
Ashley sat in silence as the taxi driver brought the cab to a squeaking stop in front of her childhood home. Overgrown trees smothered the dried up grass and crawling vines invaded the walls and windows. She shivered at the thought of ever calling this monstrosity of a house– home.
Try interjecting dialogue and let the character do the describing:
Ashley sat in silence as the taxi driver brought the cab to a squeaking stop in front the house. “What happened to my childhood home?” Overgrown trees smothered the dried up grass and crawling vines invaded the walls and windows. She shivered. “I can’t believe I ever called this monstrosity home.”
Doesn’t using dialogue help you feel like you know Ashley a little better? It also makes us feel a little sorry for her because she does the actual describing allowing us to see her feelings. Plus, using dialogue to describe her arriving at her childhood home allows the author to move the plot forward by having the taxi driver exchange conversation and perhaps tell of a mysterious event that happened at the house. The possibilities are endless!
Sometimes scenes filled with exposition can become long and drawn out making the reader feel like the story is headed nowhere. That’s when dialogue can be used as an effective tool. By breaking up exposition with dialogue, an author can bring the reader into the scene and make them feel like they’re right there alongside the characters!
Did you know even nonverbal communication has the power to carry an entire scene? That’s right, having one character not respond at all to another character’s actions can tell the reader exactly what that character is like.
Terri pushed the sweeper back and forth across the living room floor, becoming angrier each time Jim lifted his feet so she could sweep under the couch. “He hasn’t even once noticed my new lingerie.” She thought. She crossed her arms across her chest and stood in front of the television.
Jim threw his hands up in the air and leaned to the right in time to see the winning touchdown.
Terri stormed out of the room, deliberately leaving the vacuum running.
So don’t be afraid when self-editing to look for areas in which you can strengthen character development through dialogue or nonverbal communication.
If you write for middle-grade or young adult did you know when they are perusing books to purchase, or check out at the library, if the first paragraph or two lacks dialogue they usually end up looking for something else? That’s right, so go ahead and say it!
Team Efi Loo
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