Dialogue can do things for your paper that nothing else
can. Used well, it characterizes people with one sentence better than you
could do with an entire paragraph of explanation. It adds variety and interest,
it speeds up the pace,
In the true spirit of Show not Tell, it lets your readers hear evidence
and then judge for themselves what to make of a situation. If you tell us
that a character was upset, thats one thing. But show their reddening
face, their clenched fists, and their words"Get yer sorry [hind
end] out o my house before I
", well, readers have no more
room for doubt.
In formal papers, dialogue (called quotes) can protect you. If
you say something controversial, your readers may dislike or judge you (see
ethos) and thus make your paper less effective.
But if you quote someone else as having said it, youre safe and you
still got your point across.
Five keys are critically important to build effective dialogue:
- Use realistic words. If a typical teen is talking, dont quote
them as saying, "I am going to the store." They almost never
say that. It comes out more like, "Im goin to the store,"
or "Im gonna go shopping." Use contractions, slang, anything
to make it sound realistic.
- Add description. Dialogue is rarely as effective if its just
the talking. When people talk on movies or in real life, theyre surrounded
by many objects and other visual stimuli. All these add context and enrich
the meaning. You might describe the way the characters dress, stand, etc.
You could describe the settingis it rich or poor, rugged or refined,
comfortable or otherwise? All these details make a difference. Even on
radio, you can hear inflection, accents, tone, and pitch, which provide
plentiful clues as to the speakers identity and feelings. In writing,
you must make up for these deficiencies by other means such as adding details
- Add action. This is similar to description, but is important enough
to merit its own bullet. This includes characters movements, expressions,
and other actions. When someone asks how your day has been, does it make
a difference whether theyre looking at you or watching TV? Of course
it does. If two characters are taking a walk in the canyon, including details
(dont forget sensory details here) can
fill out the experience and make it more realistic, which serves to make
the words even more powerful.
- You can include internal dialogue as well (thoughts). If you have both
external (spoken) and internal dialogue, you can differentiate by using
italics for the internal dialogue. Be careful with this one thoughit
sounds weird if you seem to know thoughts of other characters. Its
usually best to show their actions, expressions, and words that
demonstrate their thoughtsthe same way that you came to "know"
- You can add ideas or themes to anything. This is the least common of
these five keys, but can sometimes be used effectively. Its most
common that dialogue is added to passages of abstract themes rather than
intentionally adding themes to dialogue.
You'll find good examples of dialogue in most of these
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