By Mike Klaassen
Dialogue plays an integral role in each of the major elements of fiction by revealing character, moving the plot forward, creating a sense of time and place to enhance setting, and enriching theme. And, of course, how dialogue is used is an important aspect of each author’s unique style.
Other functions of dialogue include:
- Adding immediacy
- Providing rhythm
- Changing pace
- Creating tone
- Presenting information
- Summarizing events
Not only can dialogue perform many tasks, it can do more than one at a time. According to Randall Silvas (The Writer, February 1985), “Dialogue can be used to perform several functions—sometimes singly, often three or four simultaneously.”[i]
Dialogue may be the most recognizable of the fiction-writing modes. Its presentation makes it stand out on a page because (1) dialogue is visibly earmarked with quotation marks, (2) each new speaker gets a new paragraph, and (3) dialogue is often surrounded on the printed page with lots of blank space.
With so much emphasis on dialogue, it’s no surprise that it gets abused and overused. Entire articles have been written (justifiably) about the common misuses of dialogue.
As with many aspects of writing fiction, creating better dialogue is much easier said than done. There are numerous issues to be addressed in the process of crafting effective dialogue (each of which is beyond the scope of this article):
- How to punctuate dialogue
- How to identify the speaker in dialogue without the use of attribution tags
- How to use “said” and other dialogue attributions
- How to use (or avoid using) adverbs in attribution tags
- How to use attribution tags to control rhythm and pace in dialogue
- How to combine action and dialogue to advance plot
- How to make dialogue sound real
- How to write dialogue that increases conflict, tension, and suspense
- How to use dialogue to develop characters
Stanton Rabin (The Writer, March 2009) notes that it is “. . . wise to learn to write better dialogue, rooted in character and situation, distinctive and interesting, that propels the plot forward.” He further notes that “. . . if you want audiences to remember your work—if you want to be immortal—learn to write better dialogue.”[ii]
Fortunately, much has been written about writing effective dialogue. Fiction-writers interested in improving their craft just need to seek out that information, assimilate it, and apply it their work.
Mike Klaassen is the author of Fiction-Writing Modes: Eleven Essential Tools for Bringing Your Story to Life, which is available for order at traditional and online bookstores. You may “Look Inside” the book at Amazon.com.
Copyright 2020 and 2022 Michael John Klaassen. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this article with others.
[i] Silvas, Randall. “Let Your Dialogue Speak for Itself.” (First published in February 1985.) The Writer, March 2009, 24.
[ii] Rabin, Stanton. The Writer. “Avoid a Weak Link in Screenplays.” March 2009., 37.