Dialogue

I think it is a pretty well-known fact that dialogue should mirror real speech, but with the boring stuff taken out. But speech should also be kept short whenever possible, for a few reasons. First of all, real life conversations are a back and forth, not typically one person speaking at another, (although we’ve all had those experiences). Therefore, dialogue sounds more real when we keep it short. But, I’ve also realized, having that back and forth keeps the tension higher, in most situations.

What is more, dialogue should be an opportunity to learn more about our characters. Watching how they respond to another character can tell us about who they are speaking to, just as much about them. If they are quick to anger, bend under the will of another, or simmer in silence, we learn something about them. If they lie, are overly honest, or dance around what they want to say, we learn something about them. The exchange of words is just a small part of what makes the back and forth of dialogue so important.

Here are some examples:

Example #1
Stanley stood up. “I’m tired of constantly being nagged, every second of the day. I work hard, and when I get home, all I expect you to do is have dinner on the table. And if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, a freaking clean house. What do you do all day, anyway, shop? Get your nails done?”

Example #2
Stanley stood up. “I’m tired of constantly being nagged. Every. Second. Of. The. Day.”

Jen rose from the dining room table, her frown pulling at the new lines around her mouth. “I’m not nagging. I’m just trying to get you to talk to me.”

“What do you want from me?” he said, clenching his fists. “I can’t work any harder!”

“You’re not hearing me. You never hear me,” she said, tears forming in her eyes. “I don’t want you to work harder. I just want you to be here. Be in this marriage. Like before.”

He swept his hand over the table, sending the box of take out food off the table to slam on the newly painted maroon wall. “Maybe if you made dinner occasionally, I’d have a reason to come home.”

“Dinner?” she repeated, dumbly. Her gaze rested on the food splattered against the wall and pooling on her white carpets. “But I do my best.”

“Your best,” he asked, with a humorless laugh. “The house is a mess.”

She wrapped her arms around her shoulders and hung her head. “I try to keep it up to your standards, but nothing is ever good enough.”

His anger cooled ever so slightly. He knew what it was like to deal with his own high standards; he dealt with them every day. But it had made him a better person. He couldn’t understand why it hadn’t done the same for her. “What about the bags on the counter? Don’t you think I know how you spend your days?”

She stiffened. “Yes. I shop a lot.”

“Spending my money.”

Her gaze met his, anger simmering behind the wall of tears. “I deserve to have a little happiness.”

“A little?” He strode towards her, but surprisingly, she didn’t back down. “Shopping and getting your nails done all day hardly constitutes a hard life?”

Tears escaped, rolling down her thin cheeks and taking her makeup with it. “Being in a loveless marriage does. I’m sorry, Stanley, but this is over.” She walked around him as he stood frozen in shock. But before she left the room, she turned back. “It’s been over for a long time.”

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About lisamorrowbooks

Lisa Morrow is a life-long reader who treasures fantasy in all forms. Being a middle child in a large family gave her a unique perspective on the world, but few experiences compare to her time spent studying abroad in Cambridge, England and wandering throughout Europe. After her travels, Lisa settled down in Arizona to teach junior high English, and later, to spend time with her young children, husband, and cats. To some people, her life may seem quiet. But to her, every day is spent in a world colored by the imagination of children, and fantastical worlds created by her very own mind.
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