YW Workshop – Part 5
by Julie A. Serroul
“Dialogue” means the communication between characters in a story. What they say to each other, or to themselves. This communication between characters can make the story more interesting, help the reader understand the character who is speaking and show how the characters in a story feel about each other.
Making the Story Interesting
The dialogue, or what the characters say to each other, is one of the most interesting parts of a story. It’s a little like eavesdropping on a conversation (except it isn’t rude). What the characters of a story say to each other can change what is going to happen next, because characters, just like real people, will react to what is said to them. Dialogue is a powerful tool. If you want one of your characters to do something, or feel a certain way, then you can use another character’s dialogue to make it happen. The important thing to remember is that you must understand your characters. You have to understand the character and his or her personality before you can know what they would say or how they would say it. As well, how they would react to what is said to them.
For example, if your character Joe says something mean and nasty to your character Susie, then Susie, who is very softhearted, may cry and go home. However, if Joe said the same mean and nasty thing to your character, Roxie, who has a terrible temper, she may get very angry and yell some nasty things of her own.
So, before you can decide what your character would say in the situation you’ve put them in, you must first know your character very well (which is why character sketches are so important). Then your reader will get to know your characters through not only what they do, but also through what they say or how they say it.
Helping the Reader Get to Know the Character
So, you’ve done your character sketches and you know your characters inside and out. You know exactly what they would do or say in any situation. What you have them say will now help your reader understand them better. What a character (or a real person) says in certain situations says a lot about what kind of person they are. Here is an example.
Alice and Jim work together and Alice drives Jim to work every day because he does not have a car. Sue also works in the same office and one day at work she approaches Jim to tell him that Alice has been in a terrible car accident.
The writer of the story could have Jim say the following:
“Oh great, now how am I supposed to get to work tomorrow?”
The reader will then assume that Jim is a very selfish, self-centered person who is not very sensitive to others.
If instead the writer had Jim say the following:
“My goodness, is Alice okay?”
Then the reader will assume that Jim is a caring, compassionate person.
Of course, your reader will base his or her opinion on all the things that your character says and does, but you get the idea. You can help out your reader by hinting at your character’s personality through what they say and how they say it.
Establishing How Characters Feel About Each Other
Dialogue is also a handy tool to illustrate how your characters feel about each other. What someone says to you (or doesn’t say to you) and how they say it can show their opinion of you. Using the example of Jim and Alice again, once Jim learned of Alice’s accident and that she was not badly hurt he may have said the following:
“Well, I’m not really surprised, Alice drives much too fast and doesn’t pay very good attention either.”
This would indicate that first of all, Jim doesn’t have a very good opinion of Alice’s driving, and perhaps of Alice herself, because he assumes that the accident was probably her fault.
You could have him say the following instead:
“I’m so relieved that Alice wasn’t hurt, and I can’t imagine that the accident would have been her fault because she is such a careful and responsible driver.”
This statement by Jim shows a much higher opinion of Alice as well as some concern for her safety, showing he cares about her. Also, it shows a certain loyalty to her as a friend that he would leap to her defense.
Let’s try to use some dialogue now. Imagine the following situation.
Marc is very late for school. Lori is his next door neighbor and in the same class as Marc. Their teacher, Ms. McNeil, asks Lori if she knows why Marc is late.
There are two things to think about before you begin.
1. You must first decide exactly how Lori feels about Marc.
2. You must also think about what kind of character Lori is before you begin.
Then for 5 minutes write a conversation (or dialogue) between Lori and Ms. McNeil that would show these two things through the dialogue.
TIP: It’s a good idea to read your dialogue out loud to see how it would sound.
When you are first writing your dialogue, it is like any other type of creative writing. In the first phase you only worry about getting your ideas on paper, but during the second phase it is time to go over your dialogue and make sure that you punctuated it correctly and that you used dialogue tags correctly.
Examples for Editing Phase:
“Oh great, now how am I supposed to get to work tomorrow?” asked Jim.
Quotation marks go at the beginning and the end of the actual words your character says. They frame the words – like a picture.
The question mark (or exlamation mark) goes inside the quotation marks with the words the character is saying. One way to remember this is to remind yourself that the way that the character is saying something is as important as what they are saying.
“I’m glad Alice wasn’t hurt,” said Jim.
If your character isn’t asking a question (?) or exlaiming something (!), then you would use a comma which is placed inside the quotation marks before you add the dialogue tag.
In the examples above, asked Jim and said Jim are the dialogue tags. A dialogue tag helps to identify which character is speaking.
Dialogue is an important tool for writers in explaining who their characters are and why they do the things they do. With a good understanding of your characters and a little practice, the dialogue you write will make your story realistic and interesting for your readers.Go on to Part 6
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