Dialogue isn’t just the words your characters say to each other. Good dialogue works on a number of different levels and accomplishes so much. It can add to the reader’s knowledge of a situation, keep a scene moving forward, reveal something about a character (especially if you use subtext) and tell us about the relationships between characters. I love writing dialogue! But there are a few things dialogue should NOT be used for:
1-Dialogue isn’t good for describing people, places, or objects.
“When you walked into the room, I couldn’t help but notice the shimmering beads on the neckline of your red gown. It really clashes with the highlights in your auburn pixie-cut hair.”
Instead, drop the description right into the narrative. Alternatively, use it to tell us more about your character, such as:
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“It’s just that your dress is so…”
“What’s wrong with my dress?”
“I didn’t say anything was wrong with it. Just…never mind.”
2-Dialogue is not an important source of facts.
“If I don’t get to the Hartsfield International Airport in time, I’m going to miss the 9:30am flight to Phoenix. Your father is depending on me to be there for the gala in his honor tonight where everyone from the Dennis and Hart law firm will be attending.”
Nope. Just nope.
“Where are my keys?”
“You’re going to be late.”
“I won’t be late if I can just find my keys. Get up and help me.”
“I can’t believe you’re going to miss the flight again.”
“I’m not going to miss it. Don’t tell your father about this. Okay?”
3-Dialogue is not for extended ruminating.
“I can’t help wondering, why am I here? I mean, not in a Biblical meaning-of-life kind of way, as in why are we here on earth experiencing this insignificant existence? More of a how did I get to this point in my life where my fate seems to hang on the balance of despair and insanity? I have no joy, no hope in this moment. Nothing to bring me a sense of peace in my pathetic actuality. Just a never-ending stream of questions that don’t make sense anymore.”
Please don’t waste the reader’s time with an empty scene like that. When in doubt, put it in narrative:
Gina went on a rant about life again. Most of us ignored her.
Learning to craft good dialogue is one of the most critical aspects of learning to write good fiction. By using gesture, silence, sensory clues, descriptive settings, unspoken thoughts, an association, or subtext interspersed with the words your characters speak, your dialogue will come alive.
So don’t hesitate to make those characters talk…just use those words wisely!
Ilima Todd was born and raised on the north shore of Oahu and currently resides in the Rocky Mountains. She never wanted to be a writer even though she loves books and reading. She earned a degree in physics instead. But the characters in her head refused to be ignored, and now she spends her time writing science fiction for teens. Ilima is the author of the REMAKE series (Simon Pulse/Shadow Mountain) and is represented by Katherine Boyle of Veritas Literary. When she is not writing, Ilima loves to spend time with her husband and four children.