Monday, March 22, 2010

The Functions of Dialogue!

I'm the type of writer who begins with dialogue. Actually I'm heavy on dialogue with most of my novels. I have to hear what's going on as I see it in my head, so that's where I start. And as I approach a blank page wherein I've already written a one-line sentence on what that scene is about (based upon my outline), I usually begin my layering with what my characters are saying, their conversations and conflict, their drama, be it internal or external. I can end up with four pages or twelve pages, however it flows until they're done talking, but for me, that's a big part of the first level of my draft. I can randomly, as necessary, add narration, setting, movement, visual descriptions, dialogue tags, etc., in layers, or go back and do it all at once, one element at a time.

Right now, I'm in the 9th inning of a novel, but wanted to share a small bit of info that was sent to me by I've taken a few of their classes, though I haven't in a while, but sometimes the bit of info they send in their emails serve as great reminders of the craft.

Authentic and effective dialogue in a story performs many functions: It characterizes and reveals motives, it sets the mood, it intensifies the story conflict and moves the story forward, it creates tension and suspense, it speeds up the scenes, it adds bits of setting and background, and it communicates the story's theme. When working well, dialogue can accomplish all of these functions at the same time.

The mood or atmosphere in a story doesn't happen all by itself. On its own, even the setting can only do so much to establish a story's mood because the only tool you have is narrative description. But when the characters come on the scene and start interacting, the reader begins to get a feel for exactly what kind of story this is; whether she's going to laugh or cry her way through it, whether it's going to be a fast or slow-paced ride, whether the story is just for fun or whether she's going to have to think deeply about some aspect of the human condition. If the writer has found her authentic voice for the story, the characters will express themselves through dialogue in a way that creates and sustains the story's mood.

Much of the time, real people's conversations aren't all that interesting, certainly not the stuff of daytime drama on television. Things get interesting when one person's agenda collides with another's, when one person wants one thing and another person wants something else. How much each of them wants something also plays a part in how intense the conflict between them becomes.

How do you approach a blank page? Are you a narration or dialogue person, or do you just go with the flow?

Much love and happy writing!


Jewel Amethyst said...

I would say I'm a mixture of both. A lot depends on whether the scene is character driven, or situation driven.

Liane Spicer said...

I'd say narrative description is my forte, and this can result in too much telling and too little showing. On the second and subsequent edits I look for places where I need to show rather than tell; chopping the narrative out and inserting some dialogue usually improves the mix.

Thanks for sharing the tip!