I learned to write fiction first by writing in script form. That means, except for a very few and brief inclusion of actual descriptions enclosed in parentheses, my stories were 95% dialogue. Some friends liked the stuff I wrote, though. Well, they were kids, too, so it was not hard to impress them.
The nice thing about it was even with the absence of actual storytelling, the dialogues worked. My few readers understood the stories, liked them even somehow. Why? Because the dialogue has its own specific and important role in literature.
The Whys of Dialogue
Years ago, I learned of this. I cannot recall from whom or where, but I learned that dialogues are essential in a story. Novels need them, be they fiction or non-fiction.
Here are what I know:
Dialogue makes interaction between characters more natural.
Without dialogues, can you imagine how it would be like? Sure, you can write them this way: She told him he was very wrong. Fair enough. But if you were a reader, how would you like to read something like this one?
She told him he was very wrong. He told her that he was right. She answered back saying he had to prove it. The man then accepted the challenge and said he would be back. Before he left, she reminded him that….
Oh, my. Major headache, that’s what one will get if he reads a whole book without actual dialogue. It’s not just boring, but rather annoying. Even if the character is supposed to be mute and doing sign language, you must be able to let the readers know what it is the character is telling somebody else. This is in written form, folks. There is no other way for your readers to see the actions. It is up to you to make them see–and hear–the character in their heads.
Dialogue adds “character” to the character.
It makes the reader understand a character better. Dialogue gives him personality, background, attributes, etc. If he talks with a certain accent that is recognizable through how the words and even grammar are written, the reader can immediately gauge from where he’s been, maybe get an idea of what his morals are, his beliefs, other things. Like if he sounds Texan, maybe he carries a gun. This is not merely stereotyping, rather a part of characterization. In fact, you can make him more interesting by making him different, like he’s a guy who has never held a gun in his life–that would be an interesting angle.
You can even let details about the character be known through his indirect words. For instance, one of my inspirations for Maya, the main character in my story, is Dr. Temperance Brennan a.k.a. Bones. Brennan is a genius who likes to share and insert trivia and stuff in conversations. So by letting Maya talk and talk about trivia and stuff that she learns from her doctor-friend (who does most of the forensics talk, naturally), I let the readers know that Maya’s got the brains, too, and that she could also be a tad like a know-it-all sometimes, like Brennan.
Dialogue fills in the void.
When something about the character or what is happening to him is not explained clearly, whether done by the writer intentionally or not, dialogue reflects the character’s thoughts and feelings. It makes him more human, or in the case of fables and children’s stories where animals and non-living things talk, more human-like.
Through his words and by the way he says them, that gives the reader an idea of him. How does he communicate? How does he speak to others–is he rough, angry, soft-spoken, prone to using coarse language, gentle? How does he treat particular characters? Those maybe clues to things the readers have yet to unravel.
Of course, there could be twists in stories. The well-mannered gentleman may turn out to be the murderous psychopath after all. So how can we say that his dialogues are the reflection of him? They are. He is deceitful, cunning, malicious, and his next dialogues will prove how cold, horrible or conflicted he is.
Dialogue provides white space for the reader.
Not unless a dialogue is turned into a whole speech, it allows for white space. It is literally that empty space on a page that lets your eyes “breathe” or rest. They will need rest after reading loooong paragraphs. I even learned this in my journalism class in college. Dialogues being often shorter allow that break, which then allows the brain to more clearly process what has been read.
Alright, so far, those are what I know. I did do a research and found more valuable information. I have collated resources and listed them down below. I suggest you pay them a visit.
It mentions about dialogue also being…
- critical to plot advancement
- a tool of foreshadowing
- one way readers learn about the setting and conflict in a story’s exposition
It listed down more ways dialogues help in stories, such as in making the story advance, developing the characters, increasing the story’s pace and dynamics, and showing what is happening rather than telling it.
Writers shared what they know about dialogues. They may echo what have already been said here, but there are more valuable nuggets of knowledge and wisdom to be found.
It is always my pleasure to share, so I am hoping you gleaned at least one thing from this post. Be back tomorrow!!!
This piece serves as my Letter D post for the A to Z Challenge 2017.
If you’re interested:
A for Alibata – How to Spell the Ancient Filipino Way
B for Block – “How do you personally deal with writer’s block?”
C for Contents – Contents with all the Feels