Today’s post will focus on dialogue. Ideally, your novel will have about the same ratio of dialogue to narration. This applies to both the novel and sections within it. You’ll want to avoid pages upon pages of straight dialogue, as this will quickly fatigue your reader. Conversely, a lack of dialogue detracts from the immediacy and getting to know your character, so maintain the balance is key.
Dialogue serves three main functions. It informs, it establishes characters and it moves the plot forward.
Let’s examine each of these three functions closer.
When two or more characters come together, they share knowledge, revealing information that the reader or one of the characters doesn’t know, leading to an insight or a conclusion.
Mara is dead. Katie knows that Mara had been on her way to meet her ex Quinn. Jenifer knows that Quinn didn’t show up to the date, because he was with her the whole night.
When Jenifer discloses the above information in a dialogue with Katie, we know that Quinn could not have killed Mara and that someone else has to be the murderer.
Choose carefully what information you include. Always ask yourself why it is necessary for the reader to know XZY. If it is not necessary to understand the story, cut it. Dialogue is not an excuse to dump large amount of information on your reader.
Dialogue establishes characters
While your main protagonist might think of herself as loyal, it doesn’t mean that she truly is. Her actions and dialogue with friends, employers, or lovers will reveal who she truly is.
Ellen sees her boyfriend Martin kissing another girl. Before she can decide what to do Martin looks up and notices her. He walks over to her.
“Ellen, what are you doing here?” he stumbles.
The way Ellen reacts to this situation and what she will say to Martin is way more telling of her personality, than a hypothetical situation in her head or an inner monologue that she has, while making breakfast.
Remember, the decisions that your characters make under pressure, reveal their true nature.
Dialogue moves plot forward
This can be done in various ways, such as a conflict between two characters or the introduction of a new character.
Megan thinks that the hateful texts she has been receiving for weeks are from her frenemy Emily. She decides to confront Emily at her locker.
“Emily, when will you grow up and stop being a coward.”
“What are you talking about, Megan?”
“I know you’re the one who’s been sending all these nasty texts to me.”
Emily blanches. “I haven’t…”
“I won’t let you deny it.” Megan grabs Emily’s phone out of her hands, only to realize that Megan has received the same texts. “You got them too?”
The above passage could’ve been written in narrative form and while it would’ve moved the plot forward, it would’ve been less dramatic. Dialogue helps build tension. It is also the simplest and most effective way to bring a scene to life.
Therefore, important information should be conveyed through dialogue, while insignificant details (e.g. weather conditions, appearance of a building) can be summarized in brief descriptive passages.
It is crucial to remember that dialogue in novels is never idle conversation. In real life it might be used to pass the time, but in a novel it always has a purpose.