Keep Dialogue on the Right Path
Dialogue is one of the easiest things to write with fiction. If it’s realistic and pertinent to the story and set out properly, it shouldn’t give authors too much trouble.
Many difficulties arise with dialogue because writers are not always sure how to set it out or punctuate it correctly, but that’s to do with formatting rather than anything technical. It’s when writers don’t pay attention to it that other problems occur.
Dialogue has a number of important functions - it is there to impart necessary information, reveal characters and to move the story forward. It must always relate to the plot. When that doesn’t occur, dialogue can have the opposite affect – it doesn’t provide the reader with any information, it doesn’t move the story forward and doesn’t reveal characterisation. This slows the pace, distracts the reader and can prove boring.
How does this happen?
Expositional dialogue – or sometimes called an idiot lecture – is when one character explains to another character information or facts that they both already know, but it’s done solely for the reader, for example:
‘So this equipment will do the trick?’
‘That’s right, David. The protons are oscillated within the chamber at incredible speeds, where they will smash into each other and produce energy...’
‘And that will produce the firepower needed ...’
Dialogue like this often treats the reader like an idiot, but if the writer has been clever and creative with both information and dialogue planted throughout the story, there will be no need for expositional dialogue like this.
There are other ways dialogue can prove problematic. ‘Chit-chat’ scenes are pace killers. This is when characters don’t talk about anything related to the main story and instead they meander and “chit-chat” about unimportant stuff, for example:
‘Never mind, I’m sure he’ll get better with the right help. He’s strong deep down.’
‘You’re right.’ Gabby sighed. “What do you say if we take a ride into town? There’s an amazing new boutique I know we’ll both enjoy. I really could do with a facial.’
‘A pamper session is tempting...’
This example begins with a serious tone, but then it veers off course and the characters talk about inane, mundane stuff that has nothing to do with the story. The tone jumps from serious to light in one sentence. This interrupts the flow of the story and kills any pace the scene may have had. The moment you spot ‘chit-chat’, cut it. Be brutal – your writing will be better for it.
Dialogue padding is when the author has characters do a lot of talking when it just isn’t necessary. There are times when a character has important things to say, and from time to time they have to deliver a monologue, but if you find your characters are endlessly talking, get them to shut up, for example:
‘To think what I’ve been through. I almost got run over, my dog died, and now this online abuse. It’s a good job I’m a strong person, I can take it. That’s because my parents always taught me to be strong, and I’m not going to let them down just because these people want to ruin my life. Well it isn’t going to happen.’
This is dialogue padding. All that could be said in just few words:
‘I’ve been through so much, but I’m not going to let those people ruin my life.’
Check to see whether your characters talk too much. If they do, make some cuts. On the whole, keep dialogue brief and to the point.
Dialogue flashbacks are another narrative killer. They occur when the character reminisces about a past event, and the author launches the characters into a dialogue flashback, for example:
‘We’ll know more news tomorrow,’ David said.
Gabby hoped so, for her brother’s sake. She remembered when Ethan was in his teens and one time he went joyriding while their mother was away.
‘Mom is going to be so mad at you.’
‘She won’t know, unless you tell her,’ Ethan said.
‘I won’t tell her, but my silence is gonna cost you,’ Gabby said.
Almost all dialogue flashbacks are unnecessary. They can stifle and interrupt the flow of the story. Unfortunately, many writers rely on them too much – they believe they’re enhancing the story, when in fact they have the opposite effect, so if you have any of these in your writing, get rid of them.
Remember that just like description and narrative, dialogue must always relate to the plot. It’s there to provide necessary information, help develop your characters and to push the story forward.