Whether your working on your first draft or editing, dialogue seems to be the one thing that is the bane of any writer’s existence. I’m sure there are people who have a natural knack for handling dialogue, but for me (and I imagine many other writers), it tends to come out as a complete mess.
Dialogue is a fairly necessary part of storytelling. We not only get to see characters develop, we can see relationships built and can even reveal interesting information about the plot; but dialogue cannot exist on its own. I can’t begin to count on my hands the times I’ve been told that it’s just not enough for two characters to be talking and it’s true. If someone has written a complete novel in nothing but dialogue, I’ll take it back and will happily read that novel.
If you’re like me, you find dialogue to be a bit tricky. Your characters start getting chatty and all the sudden the world around them just fades away. You may forget that your story needs to move on, that even though readers may detest the “said” tag like the plague, you can’t come up with a better word for two characters who are not saying anything in any notable fashion, they’re just talking, and you’re too proud to use other dialogue tags just to switch things up. It’s frustrating, I know. However, there’s hope. As I will discuss over a few posts.
Many times you can convey, using action and other methods of description, what you might be tempted to express in a dialogue tag, or even in dialogue. For example:
“I have some pertinent information that is going to help you later on in the plot but I know you’re going to ignore me, so I don’t think I’m going to waste my breath on that and let you feel sorry for not asking me for it. I know you’re too proud to ask,” Bob bragged.
“I have some have some pertinent information that is going to help you later on in the plot because I care about you, about this guy you’re seeing,” Bob said. His face was etched with concern. Jane never really sought advice from anyone, especially when it came to her love life. She was too proud to ask other people for advice; a pride that had prevented her from seeking help several times, which could have ended several unfortunate ends to relationships. What was her mantra? “The best wisdom is gained from experience.” Ah yes! Making all of these mistakes was a quest for wisdom, or some other high purpose.
“Look, Bob, I know you’re just trying to be a friend and everything, but I’m a big girl. I have to figure this out for myself.” Jane shoved another slice of pizza in her mouth, like it would magically end the conversation.
“Really, Jane. I’m trying to be serious her,” Bob said, shifting to a more serious tone. “This train you’re supposed to be getting on in ten minutes, if you don’t stop shoving pizza in your mouth, you’re going to miss it. He’s not going to magically come sweeping down just because you missed your train for a pizza craving. I’ve talked to him, trust me on this. He’s not going to be too appreciative if you miss it; this may make or break your relationship with him. You have to get out of this shop and on that train now.”
“While I appreciate your advice, you really don’t understand the relationship a girl has with pizza some times.” Jane wiped her hands on the nearby napkin. “I suppose you’re going to want some thanks for trying to be helpful, but I’m not going to do that. I am going to sit here and let you watch me eating pizza. You’re free to leave at any time.” She returned to her pizza and proceeded to devour the remaining three slices.
Bob realised that he was unlikely to persuade Jane to leave the pizza to get to her train on time. He wasn’t interested in sitting there while Jane finished her pizza, so he rose from his chair and left the restaurant with a sigh of defeat as he walked out the door.
Which scene do you find more interesting? The last scene is more likely going to be interesting for readers because it sustains action, we learn some things about Jane from Bob, and we get a hint at why Jane might want to consider making her train. So the next time your revising dialogue consider adding action and information that may be valuable to the reader. It keeps the scene moving forward, and the dialogue will read significantly less like a recount of “he said,” “she said”.