One of the key elements of a story is dialogue. By way of definition, a dialogue is the textual representation of spoken words and conversations within most creative works, including novels, short stories, and scripts. It is the speech of fiction, the talk between two or more characters.
Dialogue is an essential element of a story because it is what advances the story; it is what directs and changes the course of a story. It also helps a writer to communicate specific information to his reader. Dialogues reveal the nature of the characters in the story, and it is through dialogues that the message of the story is communicated to the reader.
One of the keys to writing great stories is building an exciting dialogue. A dialogue must create an emotional effect and response from the reader.
There are a few things to consider while writing your story dialogue.
- Give your characters different voices, word choices, rhythms, and styles: Just like real humans speak differently, the difference of tone, word choice and style between characters should be noticed by the readers. This requires research and observation. As a writer, you must understand who a character is before you ascribe a voice style and tone to him or her. For example, if a character were to be an Ibo, then he should speak differently from the Hausa character. Traditional Ibos tend to talk in proverbs; you may give your Ibo character this distinction.
- Keep your dialogues brief: Although there are situations where long dialogue is allowed, this should not be dominant. Long dialogues are more suitable in plays than in novels. In a novel, dialogues should not go over for pages and pages. Don’t allow characters to speak at length without interruption by another character.
- Be consistent with your characters’ voice and style: I said earlier that each character should have unique voices. You must be consistent with it; an Ibo character should not just start talking like an English man all of a sudden.
- Show; don’t tell: This cannot be overemphasised in a story. Writers are quick to tell a character’s emotions, feelings or intentions instead of showing them. You should show what your characters feel instead of telling it. You can make use of body language because it is very crucial in a story-like dialogue. To do this, you have to understand human behaviour. Just like humans do, your characters should not always know what they feel. For you to be able to apply this to your story, you may need to observe a lot. Observe people while they are having a discussion and apply the same to the characters in your story.
- Avoid repetition of names in dialogue and keeping other characters in a scene busy while others are talking: This will add reality to the scene. Your characters should not be unnecessarily passive.
- Minimise identifying tags like ‘he said’, ‘he asked’, etc.: Tags are sometimes not necessary and worse, they drag the flow of the story and make it boring.
- Read your dialogues out: Some will say you should write your dialogues the way you speak. This has proven to be quite effective so you might consider applying it.
And lastly, read wide and listen to people talk. Reading and listening help you create dialogues that are not only real but interesting and engaging.