What your characters do throughout the story forms the backbone of what your tale is about. But it’s what they say and how they say it that puts the flesh and muscle on the bone. Here are some tips on how to add that extra something to your dialogue.
I’m not decrying narrative description, which is essential, but it’s far better to show the reader what’s happening through your character’s dialogue, when it’s acceptable to do so, than relying too much on descriptive passages.
Take this, for example:
Debbie got out of the car and stared at the building in front of her.
‘I don’t know that I like the look of that’, she said as Grant came round and stood with her. ‘It looks like me mam’s old tea pot.’
‘That’s because it’s old and quaint, Debbie.’ He put his arm around her and gave a comforting hug.
But it’s got such tiny windows, and all that black wood. And it needs a good paint.’
Grant smiled quietly. ‘It’s a Tudor cottage, hence the black timbers, and you’re right, it does need some maintenance. But it’s got great character and it’s really cosy inside’.
We could have spent some time describing the building that Debbie and Grant had gone to see, but in revealing it’s appearance through their eyes we can sense instantly what it looks like, and additionally what each of them thinks of it, which is a bonus.
Don’t forget that your readers have imagination. As a story teller you can make use of that to keep them interested, excited and informed about what’s happening to your characters.
We can also add to the dialogue to indicate mood or character. Taking the example above we could have written:
‘I don’t like the look of that,’ she said petulantly.
Immediately we know what Debbie’s mood is and something of, perhaps, her hard to please nature.
Similarly we can intersperse phrases such as ‘he gave a dissmissive wave of his hand’, or ‘Mary picked up the letter nervously and said…’ to give an indication of the character’s mood and how they feel.
Also, both of these example give the reader a visual picture of something happening: a wave of the hand and Mary picking up a letter. Just small gestures, but the mind can’t help but picture the movements which helps to bring the whole scene to life.
Another thing that dialogue does for us is that it breaks up the page. Have you ever picked up a novel in the bookshop, flipped it open and felt a sinking feeling because the page was all narrative and no dialogue? Too many solid paragraphs can have a subconscious negative effect on a reader, so introduce dialogue to bring life and texture to the printed page.
There’s no formula for this, just try to make sure there’s at least some dialogue on every page.
One word of warning: Don’t be too enthusiastic about putting dialogue into your story if all the characters are doing is discussing the price of beef. Unless, of course, the price of beef is relevant to the storyline. The story should be moved forward by what they have to say, and should connect to the plot. The reader should be informed by what they say, or be let into some secret perhaps, or maybe get a glimpse of some aspect of a person’s character that has not been seen before. All of which should be pertinent to the unfolding of the story.
Take a little time to think about all this and perhaps do a few exercises to experiment with any of the above ideas that you hadn’t considered before. It will be well worth it.