"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not." -Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Go Ahead and Say It: The Importance of Dialogue

Being able to create dialogue which is meaningful and believable and at the same time move the plot forward and help build character development can be one of the greatest challenges you as an author faces. It’s also one of the most important skills to have in your writer’s toolbox. Why? Because dialogue is one of the most versatile tools there is when it comes to making your characters come alive and connecting them to your readers! 

Dialogue has three main purposes; move the plot forward, connect your readers to whom your characters really are, or both. In other words, things should never come to a dead end once a character starts talking. Recently, we explored scene and sequel (click here for Part One) and we discovered how scenes help to move the plot along. Often times, this is done using exposition; however, using dialogue can be very effective in helping to advance the scene.

Let’s explore:

When it comes to describing setting, dialogue is a great tool to use in place of conventional exposition. So instead of using exposition to describe the scene:

     When the taxi pulls around the corner, Ashley looks up and sees the overgrown trees and the creepy dried up vines crawling up the walls. She shivers thinking that she once called this place home.

Try interjecting dialogue and let the character do the describing:

     When the taxi pulls around the corner, Ashley looks up in horror, “What happened to my childhood home?” She says seeing all the overgrown trees, “It’s so dark and look at all the dead vines creeping up the walls!”

Doesn’t using dialogue help you feel like you know Ashley a little better? It also makes us feel a little sorry for her because she does the actual describing allowing us to see her feelings. Plus, using dialogue to describe her arriving at her childhood home allows you as the author to move the plot forward by having the taxi driver exchange conversation and perhaps tell of a mysterious event that happened at the home. The possibilities are endless!

Dialogue is also effective when it comes to pacing. Sometimes scenes filled with exposition can become long and drawn out making the reader feel like the story is heading nowhere. By breaking it up with dialogue, you can help bring the reader into the scene and make them feel like they are right there with your characters!

Did you know even nonverbal communication has the power to carry an entire scene? That’s right, having one character not respond at all to another character’s actions can tell the reader exactly what that character is like. Let’s examine:

     As Terri pushes the sweeper back and forth across the living room floor she becomes angrier and angrier every time Jimmy lifts his feet so she can sweep under the couch. “He hasn’t even once noticed my new lingerie.” She thinks. 
With her head feeling like it wants to explode, Terri deliberately stands in front of the blaring television trying to block the game. Jimmy simply glares at her and throws his hands up in the air, trying to look around her. Knowing she isn’t going to win his attention she storms out of the room, purposely forgetting to turn off the vacuum.

So don’t be afraid when self-editing to look for areas in which you can strengthen character development through dialogue or nonverbal communication. If you write for middle-grade or young adult, did you know when they are perusing books to purchase if the first or second paragraph lacks dialogue they usually end up not purchasing it? That’s right, so go ahead and say it!

Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author  


  1. Dialogue is huge, whether standard or in italics. It is a plot driver as well as an insight giver. Some writers totally suck with dialogue: it's stilted and forced. It should be written the way people actually talk. Except for me because I stutter, but that's another story.:D

    Great post, T. K. It says it all!


  2. You are so right Blaze, and as far as you talk, you speak as smooth as an eagle flying on a cool summer breeze. Isn't it great to be a writer!

  3. Yvonne loves the way I talk. She's such a special lady. For everyone else, my written words must suffice.

    By the way, I loved your flash fiction on your sister blog. Tres cool!