Today’s writing Definition of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, is “Dialogue.” Also known as a major inducer of headaches for many creative writers.
But we’ll get into that further in a few days. For now, we’re just talking about what dialogue is and what it involves.
When it comes to story-making, dialogue is of course the supposedly spoken language your characters present to each other or to themselves. It’s the words they express “out loud” on paper.
It could be Sally and Timmy having a conversation on the playground:
“Let’s build a sandcastle!” Timmy proposed, his excitement bubbling over. Sally wrinkled her nose. “We did that yesterday.” “Okay,” he conceded, malleable as usual. “What do you want to do?” Her resulting smile was a wicked one. “Let’s go over to Mr. Angovy’s yard.”
Or it could be Rich and Tyreke whispering to each other at Five-Point Automation’s annual team-building event:
“I hate these things,” Rich muttered while the boss woman droned on. “If I was back at my desk, I'd be exploiting five contacts.” Tyreke snorted just as quietly. “You’re just mad you’re not on Jessica’s team. That’s what you’d really be doing if you were back at your desk: staring at her.” “While exploiting contacts,” Rich clarified. “While exploiting contacts.” “Such a multitasker.” He rolled his eyes in wry amusement, an act he almost instantly regretted. “Tyreke,” the boss woman interrupted her longwinded speech with raised eyebrows. “Did you have something to add?”
Or it could be a main character battling her inner demons:
“No,” she told herself as firmly as possible. “No, I’m not going to go with her. Because I know exactly where it’s going to lead if I do.”
Clearly then, dialogue is what your characters are saying, no matter if it’s a main character, a secondary character or some random throw-in that has a single line.
Yet it’s also how they’re saying it and why they’re saying it.
I could take that statement in multiple educational and worthwhile directions, but for today, let’s stick with this: Dialogue has a purpose, and it’s not just to fill up space on your pages.
One very important purpose it serves is to establish character development or emotion as a story begins or while it progresses.
Back weeks and weeks ago, I wrote about how each of your characters has a profile. They have a background. Even if their whole story line identity is wrapped up in their age, gender and location, their dialogue is still going to reflect those three specifications. (At least it should: a topic we’ll explore more on Friday.)
Well, dialogue is a great way to establish those details. You can express someone’s age, gender, nationality, socioeconomic status, occupation, worldview, upbringing, personality and mood that way.
In fact, to demonstrate dialogue’s amazing versatility, check out this worksheet helper I always hand out to my Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) students when we’re talking about the subject:
Honestly, I could probably teach a whole entire class on dialogue alone. So stay tuned for Thursday’s Writing Challenge of the Week and Friday’s Writing Rule, especially if this is an area you struggle with!
You could be just a few steps away from turning into a dialogue-writing pro!