Following on from our previous article, Five tips on how to Punctuate your Dialogue, in this next workshop I’m going to show you three ways to weave action and dialogue into your writing using body language, action and internal thoughts.
Consider the following exchange:
‘Morning, Jane. Did you sleep well?’ He smiled at her.‘Yes, thank you, Mike. I slept well. Did you?’ She smiled back.‘Good,’ said Mike. ‘May I join you?’‘Yes, of course,’ replied Jane.He drew a chair out from the table, sat down and smiled at her.
This is what we mean by redundant dialogue, and it’s a big no-no. So, what should you do to make your story move forward?
The dialogue in this scene is stifling. Perhaps that’s what the meant to do. Perhaps it may be necessary to show the characters’ fraught relationship, but what does it add to story, what does it show about how the character’s feeling and how does it add to the plot?
As a writer looking for publication, these are the questions you have to ask yourself about your dialogue.
A better way of writing this dialogue may be:
‘Morning, Jane,’ he said. The words came out terse, much more than he intended. ‘Sleep well?’ He feigned a smile. She didn’t look up. ‘Yes, thank you, Mike. I slept very well.’ She turned the page of her newspaper. ‘Good,’ he said, looking around the little café. There didn’t seem to be any spare tables. ‘It’s busy isn’t it?’ He waited for a response, but none was forthcoming, so he gestured toward the empty seat opposite her. ‘Mind if I join you?’ ‘Be my guest,’ she replied, gritting her teeth. Good grief. Of all the cafés and all the tables, he had to be here at the same time as her. ‘You’re too kind.’ He scraped a chair from under the table and sat down.
It’s better than the first one, that’s for sure! Reading between the lines of this dialogue and taking into account the asides used, you can tell that relations between these two characters are frosty. This is a good technique if the relationship is crucial to the story. You see how a few tweaks can provide interesting clues as to what’s happening in the scene?
Using Dialogue and Body Language
'Sleep well?' He feigned a smile. ‘Let’s go,’ he said, pulling on his coat. ‘Not a chance.' Her eyes fierce. ‘Past that fence,’ he said, pointing into the distance. ‘Why not?’ she said, with a grin.
If you were to watch these scenes being played out on the stage or screen, you would probably not notice these gestures. But when you have only words and a blank page, sometimes, they need to be stated.
However, too much gesturing and the writing can sound stifled – as if the author has what I call ‘puppet’ characters. It’s the gestures that intensifies the message of the dialogue.
Dialogue and Action
By mixing action and dialogue in the same sequence of events, you give the impression of forward movement, which creates tension in your story.
‘You’re too kind.’ He scraped a chair from under the table and sat down. She ran, breathless along the dark streets. ‘This way,’ she called back to Neil, ‘we’re almost there.’ ‘What do you want do to that for?’ Gareth asked. He put his paper on the nearby coffee table and waited for the response. ‘Well? I’m waiting.’ ‘Watch out!’ yelled Harry. He pushed Jane away from the oncoming car and she rolled onto the grass. The car screeched to a halt just inches from him. ‘Just one more dance,’ she pleaded with Jake. ‘Please.’ He took her arm and led her from the dance floor. ‘Ow! You’re hurting me. Leave go!’
In these examples, the dialogue, combined with action provides clear direction — thus allowing the reader to follow what’s happening in the story. Action gives rise to tension, which in turn keeps the reader engaged. It stands to reason that dialogue and action should always be concerned with propelling the story forward.
Dialogue and Internal Thoughts
If action is all about external conflict, then internal thoughts is all about creating character depth. Note that you can only do this with your point of view character — no head hopping otherwise the reader will become dizzy! The good thing about providing internal thoughts is that you let the reader know more about your character.
‘Be my guest,’ she replied, gritting her teeth. Good grief. Of all the cafés and all the tables, he had to be here at the same time as her. ‘I don’t like that colour,’ she said to Roy. It was a lie, but she didn’t want to buy a dress that they couldn’t afford. ‘I love your hair,’ she said. Why couldn’t her hair ever turn out that colour. Judith always had perfect hair, perfect make-up, perfect nails, perfect marriage. It’s wasn’t fair. Why was she always the one to have everything. Well, she smiled. We’ll soon see about the last one. ‘You haven’t washed the dishes?’ Jane said. For heaven’s sake, it wasn’t as if she’d asked him to clean the whole house while she had been at work. It was simple really. ‘Mark. Are you home?’ No reply. Typical.
As you can see, this shows the reader the true intentions of the character. Character motives are an integral part of the story. The reader needs to understand character motives to keep up with what’s happening in the story. This is why internal thoughts are an effective means of showing internal conflicts in a character and create tension between the character’s internal and external world.
You’ll also notice we’ve managed to incorporate all three in the second example of dialogue near the beginning of this article. There are other ways to move your story forward, but for dialogue, the main tools available to the writer are: gestures, action, internal thoughts.
Thanks for reading
In this article we’ve demonstrated how the careful use of gestures can intensify the message in dialogue. We’ve shown how internal thoughts in conjunction with dialogue can add depth to a character. We’ve also shown how having action in dialogue allows the author the opportunity to move the story forward. With these three tools, you can now write effective dialogue.
If you have any questions about writing dialogue, you can find me in our forums. our site is free to join and to take part in. We have a free dialogue workshop in our forums called — ‘Let’s write Dialogue’. There are many exercises you can have a go at and receive feedback — learning the craft is a two way process!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article.
You can take part in the dialogue workshop by signing up to our friendly forums here.