7. Language and Style

Page 7 of 10 | Casting a Spell | Viewpoint | First Person | Third Person | Author's Voice | Style | Dialogue |
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Good dialogue is an essential component of effective storytelling. It makes your characters seem real, it conveys information to the reader, and it moves the plot along. Learning to write dialogue is an important key to becoming a successful fiction writer.
Here's an example of sharp, effective dialogue from Theodore Sturgeon. We see a young man meeting, for the first time, a psychiatrist who's going to work with him. Notice how much is conveyed by this dialogue - not just factual information, but also emotion. What we see is a verbal sparring, a maneuvering for position and control.
Similar in a way, and yet very different, is this exchange by Jane Yolen. This piece is all dialogue, without any descriptive language at all. The spoken words must do all the work of conveying the scene. (Note: Occasionally, for special stylistic reasons, an author may choose to set off dialogue with italics rather than quotation marks. That's what Ms. Yolen has done here.)

The two most important tools you have for learning to write dialogue are (does this sound familiar?) reading good dialogue, and listening to people talk. For dialogue to be effective, your characters must sound like real people - or real aliens, or real sentient plants, or mythical beings. You must listen, and learn to be observant.

Remember, too, that your characters must be speaking because they have something to say to each other, not to the reader. Nothing wrecks the illusion of a scene faster than hearing dialogue that exists for the blatant purpose of telling the reader something that the characters already know. (See more on this in the "AWAKing" section in The Seven Deadly Perils of Style.)


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