Part v. Strengthening Your Dialogue

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If you want to write strong scenes, you need—more than anything—to be able to write strong dialogue. Many scenes call for dialogue. But how do you know what to include? How do you give your scenes substantial zest, action, or believability?

Consider the following.

Subtleness in Dialogue

Conflict invigorates scenes. Dialogue reveals the conflict and moves it forward. When there's serious tension between characters, something is about to boil over or is boiling over, readers need to feel the heated emotion welling up in the words of each character.

This doesn't mean characters must say everything on their minds. Like in real life, they may hold back, speak in innuendos, or make hidden threats. Dialogue often packs more of a punch when it's a bit suspenseful.

Dialogue can be effective if it presents conflicts as only temporary solutions. Problems in life aren't usually wrapped up in neat packages with all the answers or opinions clear. Reality is more complex than that.

Dialogue isn't an opportunity to let characters vent everything they think, believe, feel, and know. Less is often more.

Personality of Character Through Dialogue

If the personality of your character is important in your narrative, it is clearly important in your dialogue. Personality gives strength to dialogue. You can establish your character's personality through the rise and fall or tone of his voice.

Do as much as you can to make your character's personality come through in his dialogue.

If a personality is coming through, one that's engaging in some way, then readers will be more likely follow the dialogue. The more the dialogue sounds like abstract thoughts of a disembodied character, the worse.

Context in Dialogue

Every comment your character says has some context, internal or external. It comes out of the character's personality, need, desire, goal, hope, aspiration, or circumstance.

Even if a character is chattering on inanely, doesn't this say something? He is feeling good, inspired—or has just taken a drug.

If you think about your dialogue as expressive of your character's way of thinking, take on the world, or present circumstances, you will have a good chance of making your dialogue work well for your reader. It points to something. It comes out of the character. It's not just there for reading.

If it's a face-off with an antagonist, it relates to a personal, philosophical, social, religious, or cultural context—what is it? Why would your character say this? Why would the antagonist respond in the way she does? What is her take on the world? And again, be subtle: Capturing context in dialogue without making it obvious to the reader makes for invigorating reading.

Speeding Up Dialogue

Sometimes dialogue feels as if it is dragging on. And remember, there is a difference between long dialogue and dialogue feeling as if it's dragging on.

If you see places in your work where this is happening, try these techniques:

• Write shorter sentences—in a series of back-and-forth interchanges.
• Use fragments. People speak in fragments, don't they? Have characters give a one-word or phrase answer.
• Have characters interrupt and jump in.
• Intersperse less character thought or action in the dialogue itself.
• Intersperse very little description of setting or character in the dialogue itself.

Please give this part a vote if you believe you can tackle your next big scene now that you've read the above information.

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