Dialogue, when done correctly, is a writer's best friend. It allows for great characterization, the ability to move the story on quickly, and to share plot elements with you reader. Why is this so? Let's explore human interaction.
When we interact with people, how we do this? By spoke word more then anything else, which is where dialogue comes in on your stories. It's the level where character's interact, and either have conflict, explain something, show their nature, or say things to push your story forwards.
So, to start these are the four major uses for dialogue:
1. Conflict creation or resolution.
2. Explaining things. A lot of people would this isn't true-but it's part of how we interact so characters do this also.
3. Show their nature through their words
4. Say things to push the plot and story forwards.
Now let's move into tags and what they're primarily used for.
Tags are good to differentiating who's speaking, or to give a pause in the action. They also describe action when necessary. A lot of new writers make the mistake of saying:
"Screw you!" Tom shook his head.
Now, was the shaking of head first or happen after the words? The way it's written is that "screw you" happens then Tom shook his head. While that's fine if planned in that order, but what if the action is BEFORE the words?
"Really?" Tom raised a mild eyebrow. would have it after. But like I just said: what if it's BEFORE?
Tom raised a mild eyebrow. "Really?"
An action can be described before the words are said. Plenty of people will say that's breaking a writing rule, but that's where knowing what they are helps. With that knowledge, you know when it can be broken like this to make your dialogue work.
Now, let's look at a lengthy piece of dialogue:
Now to set the stage, Melissa's looking for Kate Almir, my MC, to talk to her, who is the Almir (al-meyer) mentioned. I'm going to go through this almost line by line.
“Looking for me?”
“Yes.” Melissa said. “I am.”
(Ok, the conversation has started, but could you differentiate between Kate and Melissa without the tag? This falls into place to allow a reader to know who is who.)
“Why? Don’t be cute, girlfriend. My rifle’s aimed at your head, and I wouldn’t want my finger to spasm.”
Melissa continued to look around. “I want to talk.”
(The reason for the tag here is a pacing deal. You can control your pacing via the use of tags. Here I wanted to keep the conversation slow, and suspicious on both sides since neither truly trusts the other one. Now on the tag. Melissa's looking around for Kate before speaking, so to put 'Melissa continued to look around' at the end would make the reader think it was after the words when she's doing it before and after.)
“Talk?” The girl’s tone turned suspicious. “I don’t know if you read the bulletin board, but that boat sailed a long time ago.”
Melissa licked her lips and closed her eyes. Almir didn’t seem willing to talk, and she kicked herself for making the effort. Maybe
the girl will be kind enough to make it quick.
(In this one, you get the answer from Kate to Melissa's question. The tag allows for the comments to change. The "Talk?" is a basic question anyone asks-no real tone to it. However, the last half is when she starts to question to other woman's motives, and the tone turns suspicious. Now, given the fact that emotions change in the middle of statements with people, and in this case it does, the tag doesn't belong at the end.)
Melissa dropped the rifle and extended her arms outwards. “Go ahead, then.” She said. “Shoot me.”
“I’m not gonna kill you yet. I wanna know why you sought me out, and don’t bullshit me with ‘I want to talk.’ That boat don’t float.”
“If you want me to tell you, then I want to know where you’re at. That seems like a fair trade.”
“Possibly, but the world ain’t fair. Now, toss that rifle away.”
(Ok, here we go to a faster paced conversation, which is why the lack of tags. The initial tag comes from the action Melissa does for speaking. Then it's back and forth between her and Kate. Using a tag to start gives the reader the chance to know who's speaking when so they don't get confused.)
Melissa bent over, picked it up, and tossed it as far as she could. “There.”
“Now your handgun.”
Melissa followed suit. “Ok.” She said. “I’m unarmed.”
Almir chuckled. “Look up.”
(Ok, Melissa's action breaks the fast pace, and allows the reader to catch their breath. It's not a particularly fast paced conversation by design, but you can have whole pages that don't have a tag except every once and a while to give a break in the action. However, since the scene is in Melissa's POV, the dialogue here will then contain her actions also.)
In closing, there's many ways to use dialogue to your advantage. These are just a couple examples. Experiment on the side, spend time writing as if YOU are the one talking with the character and see how the conversation goes, and flows. It's a give and take, high and low tide kind of thing. It's a challenge that I know you can beat.
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