3 Reasons Dialog is Important, 3 Reasons It’s Not

We’re talking about the pros and cons of the three aspects of scenes: description, action, dialog.

Now, as we all know, dialog is the mainstay of modern fiction. Raised in a world of television, radio, and telephones, we as an industrialized race are familiar with nothing if not the power of talk.

Dialog is important because:

  1. Fiction is talking, and dialog is talking from the core of character

    It’s words, all words. Words in your mind, words on the page, words in your characters’ mouths. That’s what fiction is. That’s what sets it apart from the other arts.

    When you take that one step further—move from your own words to your characters’—you pull your reader that one step further into your imaginary world.

    And writing is all about pulling your reader as far as humanly possible out of their world into yours.

  2. We are social animals, and we socialize through speech

    More than anything, your reader is human, and human beings need connection. When we speak to each other, we’re making connections to each other. When our characters speak to each other, they’re making connections to each other and to your reader.

    Be aware of this at all times: your reader is in the room with your characters, listening to them talk and getting to know them through their conversation. That’s your magic pill! Take full advantage of it.

  3. Readers love eavesdropping

    Even better than hearing what they’re supposed to hear, readers love hearing what they’re not supposed to hear. She said that? He blurted out this? They confessed what?

    The thrill of eavesdropping through fiction—rather than real life—is that no character ever says, “Our reader’s such an idiot.” And this sometimes does happen to eavesdroppers in real life.

    It’s a win-win situation!

Dialog is not important because:

  1. We say a lot more than anyone cares to hear

    Even the most stoic non-conversationalist says more than they need to. Nobody gets the chance to go back and edit their own dialog. That means all that extra crap is always there.

    Your job as a writer is to edit out the extra crap.

  2. A great deal of real conversation is boring beyond boring

    By far, the majority of what we say in real life is shorthand allowing us to cooperate on the things we want to do.

    “Is it?” “No.” “Yes.” “Oh, yeah?” “Um, well.” “I guess.” “Then what?” “I, uh. . .” “Huh-uh.” “Uh-oh.” “Call me?” “See you.” “Yep.”

    Do not inflict this on your reader. They don’t even listen to it when people they like say it.

  3. Talk is cheap

    What readers want is a story with legs.

    Use dialog to introduce your reader to your characters, to reveal the hidden dramas inside that complicate the characters’ worlds all out of proportion, to move your plot always, inevitably forward toward the catastrophe that is the point of using all these words and characters to illuminate something about life that your reader needs to know. . .

    . . .but don’t get bogged down in the chatter.

    Go wherever the excitement is.

9 thoughts on “3 Reasons Dialog is Important, 3 Reasons It’s Not

  1. Awesome article as always, Victoria! I’ve enjoyed all three of these, and have been dropping links to these posts like a madwoman.

    1. Victoria says:

      Rachel, I saw the links. Thank you! I’m still laughing about the readers’ brains dripping out of their ears.

  2. Deborah says:

    Yes, readers want stories with legs!

    What a great line (gold as dialog) and totally true for me. I stop reading fiction so fast. I’ll hang out longer with nonfiction to learn a topic I’m enthralled with, but in a short story or a novel, one false word and I’m out of there.

    1. Victoria says:

      That’s the key, Deborah: “to learn a topic I’m enthralled with.” We read to learn. We read fiction to learn how to be human. And the instant it stops being enthralling. . .good-bye, Constant Reader.

  3. Jarvis says:

    I’d be careful with this assessment. I think you ened those boring mannerisms in contemporary speech to make it feel authentic.

    1. Victoria says:

      There’s a whole science to making fiction dialog sound authentic without being boring. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen naturally.

  4. Sarah Allen says:

    Fantastic advice. I’ve loved and very much needed what you’ve said about dialog, action and description.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

    1. Victoria says:

      Thank you, Sarah—they’re the three pillars of scene, and if I can teach writers just that much they’ll have learned a lot.

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