Dialogue (dy- ã- log) noun: words spoken by characters in a novel, play or screenplay. Dialogue is what story people say. Though it must sound as natural as people talking in real life, every word must be filtered to suit a character, the plot and other elements of your story.
One of the main functions of dialogue is to show conflict between two characters.
It should also be used to show a character’s emotions.
- Humour. “My ex-boyfriend has only one annoying habit,” she said. “Breathing.”
- Sadness. “He took two of the softest breaths I’d ever known and then he was gone,” she said. “When the nurses came to take him away, he was still wearing his blue identity bracelet—Baby Williams.”
- Anger. “Don’t mess with me fellas,” Joan Crawford told the Pepsico board members. “This ain’t my first day at the rodeo.”
It is also a great tool for rounding out a character, making him more vivid and believable in the reader’s mind. Through the idiosyncrasies of his speech, we learn more about his true character.
- His value system. “I spent a lot of money on women and booze, the rest I just squandered,” said soccer legend George Best. (Both telling and funny).
- Catchphrases. Jay used the affectation “Old Sport” throughout The Great Gatsby. It’s part of what he believes makes him sophisticated. It’s a mask.
- Contradictions. “I left South Africa for two reasons,” said Pieter Dirk Uys’ satirical character Nowell Fine. “Apartheid and the blacks.” Hollywood producer Sam Goldwyn said: “The scene is dull. Tell him to put more life into his dying.”
Dialogue can be a wonderful way to add humour or strong emotion to your story—or to show up a character. Whether it is a Mae-West kind of double-entendre or gut-wrenching Meryl Streep drama, dialogue is a great way for the author to step out of the way and let his characters tell the story.