How Important is Dialogue in Fiction?

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I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. I don’t think it can be over-emphasized. Dialogue, when properly structured, is one of the most powerful tools in the fiction writer’s arsenal. When you turn on the sound, which is what your dialogue is doing, the scene becomes real and immediate.

However, to attract readers, dialogue must sound natural and true-to-life. It needs to be as comfortable as an old pair of sneakers.

The Best Way to Do That
Eavesdropping on a nearby conversation is an excellent way to study how real people talk. Try it sometime in your favorite coffee shop. If you pay attention you’ll discover something important. No two people express themselves in the same way.

More importantly, it’s not like the English they taught you in school. Real dialogue wanders. It begins with a tale from yesterday, interrupts with a rain prediction for the afternoon, and may leap forward to tomorrow’s dental appointment before it returns to the story.

When you realize how people actually speak, what you have your characters say can reveal volumes.

That’s because, in much the same way as we glean information when encountering new people in person, your readers will do the same sizing-up of the characters you create.

Good dialogue gives them the illusion of reality but, because a good writer is an artist, paring away the unnecessary and pointing us to what is important, it is more directed.

Distractions
By that I mean, if it’s done properly, dialogue can convey mood, backstory and more as your characters speak. However, it needs to be judiciously placed among the action to bring us close to those moments of discovery our readers love to follow.

It’s important to remember most people use contractions, sentence fragments and maybe even dialect in everyday speech. Done the right way, these can become tactics to help portray your characters as relaxed, informal or, perhaps, from a certain locale. Lose the subtlety though, and your characters can quickly turn into caricatures.

For instance, I’ve never been one to shy away from curse words to portray something about a character. Use too many, though, and your character may seem ignorant and crass.

Worse, so will you.

Slang presents a different problem. Even when it’s used sparingly, it can date your piece. However that, in my opinion, is an extremely good use for it … establishing, or reinforcing, a time period.

Rules
To me, one of the biggest rules in dialogue is this: No unnecessary words. Nothing to excess. That’s true in all writing, of course, but it has a particular acuteness when it comes to dialogue.

If you include a few unnecessary sentences in a description of place, aside from registering a minor and temporary slowing of the pace, most readers won’t notice or care.

Do the same in a block of dialogue, and your characters will seem to be speechifying rather than talking to their friends. So, don’t do it!

I’ve been told dialogue is one of the strong points of my fiction, and my advice to you is keep it spare. Allow the normal gaps that occur in communication and let the readers fill in the blanks. Give them 80% and let them figure out the rest which, in my world anyway, pulls them directly into the story.

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My novel “Blood Lake” – which was a Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Winner and a ForeWord Indie Finalist, was just named a 2018 book-of-the-year finalist by TopShelf Magazine.

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On September 18, 2018, I plan to attend the Freelance Writer’s Marketplace Group at the Barnes & Noble store in Rochester Hills. Next month, I’ll be signing books at Lake Orion High School on October 13, and again at the Books & Authors Event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on October 28. I’ll also be attending the Rochester Writers’ Conference at Oakland University on October 20. If you never attend any other conference, you should try to go to this one.

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

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You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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2 Responses to “How Important is Dialogue in Fiction?”

  1. Anne Clare Says:

    Great insights, as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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