My drafts are
usually 85% dialogue. I get characters in a room, get them talking, and see
what happens. During revision, I add the narrative stuff: action, setting,
costumes, facial expressions. But initially, it’s just the
valuable for breaking up narration, adding texture and dynamics to the story.
It’s also a great way to establish characters by letting the
reader hear their voices. Here are three deliberate uses for dialogue that can
be employed whenever you see a large hunk of narrative that is dragging the
teen TV show, The Vampire Diaries, is excellent at this one. The characters
frequently recount what happened in previous episodes as if reminiscing.
the time you killed your doppleganger by feeding her the cure for vampirism?”
delivers exposition, it not only tells the reader what’s happened before
the story began, it shows which of the characters are familiar with the
A writer can
say, “Here’s what there is to know and who knows
it,”by delivering exposition through dialogue.
This is one
of those “show, don’t tell”skills.
It’s easy enough for a writer to say of a main character: "He
trembled with rage."
dialogue to build tension, the writer might say:
“Don’t hurt me.”
“It’s too late to avoid that.”
“But, you promised.”
so low she barely heard it, he repeated, 'Come closer.'”
After a scene
builds with dialogue and two characters have reached a resolution, the scene
needs narrative to give the reader a break. You know you’ve written too much
tension into the dialogue when you read it aloud and run out of breath.
I call this
pivot-point dialogue. It’s where the scene is building to a
certain position, a particular outcome, until someone delivers a pivot via
delivers pivot points by having the character do something unexpected.
Maybe the villain falls to his knees and begs mercy, maybe he jumps off a cliff
and soars into the ocean below. But dialogue pivot points are when a character
says something unexpected.
happens in The Princess Bride when Westley and Prince Humperdinck are squaring
off and the Prince says, “Surrender!”and
Wesley says, “Death first!”and Buttercup shouts, “Will
you promise not to hurt him?”
Both men look
at her, stunned, comically responding with, “What was that?”
Buttercup has been making bargains to survive. It’s not surprising
that she’d do what she could to protect Westley. But it surprises
both of the men that she sees herself as having the ability to do so.
cannot just say crazy things to change the direction of the story. Pivot
dialogue points are the result of purposeful character development. The
characters must have something to gain or they must be sacrificing something in
order to prevent a particular outcome.
characters speak and the story will tell itself.