As we dive into writing our short stories and novels many of us wonder if dialogue is really necessary. We struggle to get our characters to say what we want them to say and so we often just skip over it and get them to mumble a few insignificant words. The story seems fine to us because it’s alive inside our head, but the reader won’t know what that is unless we write it. So, is dialogue really important for our story?
Yes, dialogue is very important in fiction stories and in non-fiction stories for several reasons.
1. It allows the writer to show and not tell what is happening; a method that is far more dynamic to the reader than paragraphs or even pages of seemingly useless description. The writer can use dialogue as a means to describe people, places and things without incorporating long, descriptive paragraphs that tend to bore readers. When they get into an action-adventure book, for example, they are hungry for the elements that make this genre exciting, and will quickly lose their interest if there is more scenic description than action.
Which of the following is easier is more captivating:
a) The mouth of the cavern was about twenty feet high and forty feet wide. It was very dark inside and quiet. The only sound came from thirty or so feet inside and it was like a quiet hissing. Jack and Bobby entered it carefully and waved their flashlights all around. The cave was very long and it appeared to split into two chambers up ahead. The boys looked at each other and Bobby was afraid of what was up ahead.
b) Bobby trailed cautiously behind Jack who ran anxiously to the opening of the cavern and then shouted with excitement.
“Bobby, look at the mouth of this cave! It’s bigger than our cottage. Come on, let’s check this out.”
Bobby grabbed Jack’s sleeve and stuttered.
“I’m not sure we should go in there. It’s so scary. I’ve never seen any cave this big and tall and dark before, and it stinks like rotten garbage in here. Look how deep it is, Jack. I think we should turn back now.”
“No way. Let’s go.”
Jack led the way as the boys crept forward into the dark cave and shone their flashlights all around. After a few minutes they saw that the cave split into two chambers up ahead and so they edged slowly toward it. Bobby grabbed Jack’s sleeve again.
“I can’t believe you’re my brother. You’re such a baby. I’m going down this chamber to see what that sound is. You can wait here by this cold, damp rock if you want.”
*Note: the second scenario draws the readers into the story and allows them to feel Bobby’s fear and Jack’s bravery as the big brother, whereas the first one just tells about it and keeps the reader uninvolved.
2. It reveals the personalities of the characters. In the above scenarios, we see in the second one that Jack is a daring adventure seeker who doesn’t let his own fears hold him back from his thrill of the adventure, whereas Bobby is a nervous younger brother who lets his fears dictate what he wants to do. These characteristics were never described, but they were revealed through the dialogue.
3. It draws the reader into the situation. A description of a place such as the cave allows the reader to know the physical description from an outside point of view without any attachment or involvement into the story. The dialogue about the cave, however, draws the reader into what the characters are experiencing and feeling about the cave. When readers can feel what the characters feel, then they won’t want to stop reading until the last word because the fears that the characters have, for example, will become almost real to them, as well.
4. Dialogue prevents a lot of extra unwanted words in a story. Sometimes writers need to use a lot of words to get the same point across that a simple dialogue can emphasize. And these extra words can break the captivation of the readers when they have to step away from the critical moment of suspense to read a paragraph of descriptive words. For example, it would take a lot of words to describe what Bobby might describe in one sentence. “Jack, it’s the valley of the living dead and there’s no way to get back up that slippery rock and out of here.”
5. Dialogue allows the characters to come across realistically. We can write the story and describe the events, but when the characters speak it turns the story into a true life adventure that the readers can relate to. The emphasis, however, is to make the dialogue believable. One of the errors that many writers make is to write dialogue that they are not familiar with.
If we are writing about a street gang using drugs and fighting gang wars, then we must use the language that they use or else the reader won’t be able to relate to the reality of the story. If we’re using dialogue from another culture, then we need to learn it and be sure that we are writing it correctly. When adult writers are writing teenage dialogue, we must be very careful that we don’t use the expressions and words that we used years ago when WE were teenagers. Whether we approve of the new expressions or not, we need have the character’s dialogue fit the role they are in or else the stories will not be believable or interesting.
6. Dialogue is important to non-fiction stories, as well. It’s a point of reference and support that makes the story more believable and authentic. When we can quote things people have said it gives strength and quality to our story. We add credibility to ourselves as an author because the quotes or dialogue we use show the reader that we have researched our facts and that our story is believable. Dialogue breaks the monotony of continual paragraphs of facts, and most readers look forward to seeing what someone else has to say about the matter.
Dialogue adds all the little details that are necessary to make a story exciting and worth reading. It’s very important to stories and articles, both fiction and non-fiction………so let the characters speak and tell us what they’re thinking.