Paradoxically, in the art of writing, it’s the power of the spoken word that can make or break your novel. Properly crafted dialogue can be used to:
• convey background information about your characters
• control the pace of the story
• reveal the emotions of your characters
• tell the reader what is relevant to the current situation
• break up the narrative of story so that your reader does not get bored and
• help create conflict
But if you think writing good dialogue is a simple matter of a couple of quotation marks and a speech tag, think again.
There are four types of dialogue.
Directed Dialogue: where one character drives the conversation in a certain direction and is directly answered by another character. The author uses this type of dialogue to set up tensions and issues that will surface later. The movement of the dialogue is directly from character A to character B.
Misdirected Dialogue: the movement of the dialogue is random. It sounds more like a real conversation in that characters don’t answer direct questions, or the subject matter may change, or other characters may chip in with unrelated comments. Here the author is using the natural rhythms and cadences of the spoken word to create tension.
Interpolated Dialogue: narrative exposition interrupts the dialogue for the purpose of interpreting what is implicit. Interpolated dialogue thus gives the reader subtle insight into the character’s deepest motivations behind the simplest dialogue. Here, the dialogue moves the story into a deeper revelation of one particular character.
Modulated Dialogue: this dialogue becomes the springboard for other details. These details can be introduced in a key memory, or to complicate the present situation, or as a means of exploring the tensions more overtly. The movement can be from dialogue to speculation or observation or flashback. The emphasis will not be interpretation (as in interpolated dialogue) but must focus on seamlessly merging scene, setting, tension and background.
Effective dialogue should have a purpose. All dialogue must either further the plot or reveal something about the story or characters. But beware that you do not force the dialogue to suit your authorial purpose. The best dialogue appears perfectly natural. And that's because every syllable, every word, will have been reworked into a finely tuned rhythm that brings the characters in your novel to life.
You will find examples of the different types of dialogue in the next post
For an excellent work book on dialogue, consider "Writing Dialogue" by Tom Chiarella, which provided the research material for this article.