Wednesday, September 4, 2019

5 Basic Functions of Dialogue



In an article over at Writer’s Digest, the author explained that ‘real’ dialogue doesn’t spell everything out.

So, what does this mean?

Well, people communicate with more than just words and often there’s a lot left unsaid in a conversation. Narration or the protagonist’s thoughts can fill in the blanks.

Here’s an example from “Crispin – The Cross of Lead” (honored with the John Newberry Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution To American Literature For Children):

“Where’s Bear?” she asked when we entered the back room.

“Asleep.”

“You mustn’t be seen,” she said. “He should have told you.”

I made no reply, assuming Bear had told her of the attack on me, and that she felt a need to protect me. If Bear trusted her, I told myself, so should I.


Perfect blend of dialogue and narration.

With this in mind, let’s go over some of the functions of dialogue with the help of narration.

1. Dialogue helps reveals the character’s traits.

“Hey, Pete. Looks like you’re having some trouble with that tire. Need a hand?”

“Ugh,” moaned Pete as he struggled to lift the tire. “I-I got it.”


So, here with a bit of dialogue, it shows that Pete may have a chip on his shoulder, maybe because he’s smaller than the other character. He’d rather struggle than accept help.

Here’s another example:

“The car’s stuck in the mud. There’s no way we’re getting it out of there. It won’t budge,” said Desmond.

Brain shoved his baseball cap back on his head. “All we have to do is get the truck. We’ll hook on a tow line and pull her out.”


In this scene, through dialogue we learn that Desmond sees the cup half empty – he can’t see how something can be accomplished. Brian on the other hand sees the cup half full. He knows he can get the job done. And, we know Brian wears a baseball cap.

Here’s another example:

“I’ll have turkey on rye with the mayo, lettuce, and tomato on the side. And, I’d like the bread lightly toasted. Please be sure it’s just lightly toasted. And, I’d like water, no ice, with two lemon slices on the side.”

Just from a simple lunch order, we know that the character is extremely picky. She knows what she wants and expects to get it.

I got this scenario from “When Harry Meet Sally” with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. It’s an amazing scene in the movie.

2. Dialogue can show what a character does for a living.

Christine looked over the documents. “Who’s responsible for these prints? They’re all wrong. The bathroom should be on the second floor and the living area should be an open concept. Somebody’s head is going to roll.”

In this scene, Christine obviously deals with blueprints. Maybe she’s an architect reviewing a subordinate’s plans. We also know she’s in charge and doesn’t take mistakes lightly.

Here’s another simple example:

“Give her oxygen and get her into the OR stat.”

From this little bit of dialogue, we can assume the person talking is a doctor and she’s working in an emergency room.

Here’s another example:

Rachel tapped the pencil on the desk. She looked around the room. Everyone was busy writing. “Man, I should have studied,” she whispered.

In this scenario we can assume Rachel is a student and her class is taking a test. We also know she wasn’t prepared for the test.

3. Dialogue can show relationships.

“Mom said you have to clean the garage before going to practice,” said Frank with a smile.

“Geez. How come you don’t have to clean the darn garage?”


From this conversation, we know the two involved are siblings, probably brothers. And, it would seem the one who has to clean the garage is older and has more chores. He’s also annoyed about that fact.

Now on the flip side, you can have information dump in dialogue – this isn’t a good thing:

“Mom said you have to clean the garage before going to practice,” said Frank with a smile.

“Geez. How come you don’t have to clean the darn garage? Just because you’re two years younger than me you get away with everything.”


It’s easy to see that the last sentence is added just to inform the reader that Frank is two years younger than his brother. This is information dump.

4. Dialogue can show how educated a character is through choice of words.

“You need to ascertain whether you and he are compatible.”

“You need to figure out if you two are a good match.”


Simple examples, but you get the point.

5. Dialogue can show tension between characters.

Sammy dropped his books and stood with his fists clenched. “Do that one more time and you’ll never do it again.”

Dylan shook his hands. “Ooohhh. I’m scared. Do you mean don’t do this again?”


This scene clearly shows tension between Sammy and Dylan. And, it shows that Dylan is the instigator of the tension.

Here’s another example:

Sara stormed up to Alicia’s desk. “You stole my idea. Mr. Peter’s is doing a full campaign based on it. Tell him it’s my idea or I’ll tell him.”

“That’s not happening,” said Alicia without hesitation. “If you weren’t careless enough to leave your notes on your desk, I wouldn’t have seen them.” She pulled a lipstick and mirror out of her desk and fixed her lips. “If you go to the boss, he won’t know who to believe. Want to risk him think you’re lying to get ahead?”


Again, this is a tension packed scene.

There are also other functions of dialogue like conveying underlying emotions, creating atmosphere, and driving the plot forward. Using dialogue and narration allows you to paint vivid pictures. Your choice of words will give your characters and your story life.

Source:
Writing a Scene with Good Dialogue and Narration

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author. She runs a successful children’s ghostwriting and rewriting business and welcomes working with new clients.

For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact her at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

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2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post, Karen. Very informative.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Karin, glad it was informative. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    ReplyDelete

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