A Writer’s Gameplan: Dialogue With a Purpose
Charlie Chaplin was a movie star who never talked. People loved those movies. I love them. But there is a reason that no production company makes silent movies anymore. People love to talk. And people love to hear what others are talking about.
Let’s look at this example. “Paul and Mary sat together on the bed talking long into the morning. Paul was surprised when he saw the sun peeking past the curtain. With much regret he rose from the bed and left, promising to return again the next night.”
What happens here is obvious. Two people are falling in love. But this paragraph doesn’t do much to show that love or help the reader fall in love too. It is not an interesting paragraph. When you read this you want to know what they are talking about.
Now look at this example.
“Mary, I have been thinking a lot about you lately.”
“What kind of things?”
“Well, about how you love children. I’ve seen you at the school. The children just love you. I think you would make a great mother.” Paul smiled as he talked. “And I’ve been thinking about that situation you had with Mr. Sutter. Now most women I know would have backed down. But you held your ground and it was Mr. Sutter backing down and even offering to prune those trees for you.”
“Oh, Paul! Are you just saying those kind of things because you know a girl likes to hear them?”
“I wouldn’t do that, Mary.”
Mary hesitated and then leaned forward slightly. “Paul. Is there anything else you’ve been thinking?”
Paul blushed. “So many things Mary. I, well Mary, I think you are the most beautiful girl I’ve seen in all of Oklahoma.”
“Well, I’ve never been out of the state.”
This bit of dialogue reveals so many things. It reveals Paul’s feelings about Mary. It reveals Mary’s traits as a woman. It foreshadows Paul’s move out of the state. It let’s the reader see the interplay between the two and how Mary needs and wants to hear what Paul thinks about her and how Paul is falling in love in doesn’t quite know how to tell her.
Dialogue can also reveal the mood, the conflict, and the theme. Check out this bit.
“I can’t take it anymore. We gotta do something! We gotta get outta here before I go mad. It’s bombs all the time. Even when they are not falling I still hear ‘em! My ears just keep ringing and ringing. I can’t even fall asleep without dreaming of those goddamn bombs falling around me. That’s even worse. In my dreams they make no noise. They just fall and the whole world explodes in dust and dirt and fire. Then I jerk awake and my ears are still ringing. I hear ‘em falling even when they aren’t falling. We gotta get outta here!
“Then stand up and let yourself get shot. That’ll buy you a ticket home,” Pozanski said. He puffed on his cigarette and turned away to stare at the horizon. “Me. I’d rather hear those bombs falling than ever hear my father’s voice again.”
In this example, two men are in the same conflict, but they both have different personal struggles going on. This example also sets the mood for the story. And it even reveals the theme: two men trying to cope with war. What makes this a good example is that it shows how dialogue should be used. Dialogue should reveal something. A writer should never use dialogue to fill pages. It must do something or it should be cut out.
There is also internal dialogue and this can be just as important as spoken dialogue.
“Where was she? She was late and that was not like her. Sammy stood. His legs ached like mad. Why did she pick this park? Why did she pick this bench? It was in plain sight. There’s people everywhere! He didn’t want to make any of his deals in plain sight. That was just stupid. He should have just worn a sign that read double agent. He should have worn jeans. This suit was making him stand out. Who came to the park in a suit unless they were doing something shady. Where was she? Maybe he was at the wrong bench. Had he sat for half an hour at the wrong park bench? Could he have been that stupid? Sammy began to run. Running was stupid. Everyone who hadn’t spotted him before would see him now. No one ran in a suit. Not unless they were stupid or there was something wrong. ”
This internal dialogue reveals Sammy’s neurotic personality. It reveals some hints about the plot. It sets the mood.
Hopefully, with these few brief examples you can see how important dialogue is to a story. Dialogue is an excellent tool to draw the reader into a story, to create conflict, set the mood, and build characters.
© Seth Crossman