Some short stories have very few lines of dialogue, such as “Lust” by Susan Minot. Other short stories, such as “Hills Like White Elephants” , a short story written by Ernest Hemingway, are crafted with mostly dialogue.
Writers use dialogue to dramatize important moments in the story. They also use dialogue to make the story more believable, make a scene come to life, seem realistic.
Writers also use dialogue as a technique of characterization.
In this post, I discuss the following about dialogue in short fiction:
- Definition of dialogue
- Suggestions for using dialogue
- Conventions of direct dialogue
- Providing stage direction
- Writing indirect dialogue
- Dialogue and character
- Dialect in dialogue
- Using Stage direction
- Using dialect
Definition of Dialogue
What is dialogue in fiction? It is the spoken words of a character. It allows characters to speak for themselves. It shows what is spoken between characters.It is conversation between characters.The writer uses dialogue to show the reader how the characters interact, to develop character, to dramatize the story, to move the plot forward.
Most scenes in short fiction include dialogue. A scene shows, not tells the reader what is happening. Scene in fiction is like a scene in a film. Scene is the primary method by which the writer shows the reader what happens. Dialogue between characters is one way to show what is happening in a particular scene.
A summary doesn’t include dialogue. Instead the writer includes indirect dialogue to summarize or to some up or “tell the reader what was said.
Suggestions for Using Dialogue
Dialogue helps dramatize the story, makes the story believable, develops the character. Follow these suggestions when using dialogue:
- Dialogue should sound realistic, as though two people are talking to each other.
- Dialogue should not include mundane exchanges between characters.
- Dialogue should convey spontaneity.
- Use dialogue to advance plot, reveal character, dramatize moment of drama, create tension, show conflict between characters.
- So long as the reader knows who is speaking, you don’t need to include dialogue tags for each line of dialogue.
Conventions of Direct Dialogue
Writers of short stories and novels tend to follow certain dialogue conventions. When you write dialogue, follow these guidelines:
- Use quotations around the words spoken by each character.
- Use dialogue tags to show who is speaking. Conventional tags are “he said” or “she said.”
- Use a new paragraph for each new speaker.
- Use exclamation marks sparingly in dialogue. Use only for to show extreme emotion.
- Avoid using adverbs in dialogue tags.
- Use contractions for the spoken word. Example: Dave said, “I didn’t pass the course.”
“I was fired today”, Dave said.
“That’s awful”, Mary said, starting to cry.
“How are we going to pay the rent?”
“I will cash in my bond,” Dave said.
If dialogue is long, place the dialogue tag in middle.
“I’m going to start looking for a job”, said Dave. “I’ll create a resume, write a cover letter, start searching online. You’ll see. I’ll have a job in 4 weeks.”
Remember: The writer uses dialogue tags to indicate who is speaking in the scene.
When necessary, add narrative detail or stage direction to the dialogue. You can describe the actions of the character, reveal conflict, tell reader what the character is thinking or feeling. Stage direction shows the reader what the character is doing or where the dialogue is taking place. Most of all, stage direction provides context of the story to the reader.
Dave turned on the computer, logged on to the Web, started searching for a job.
“Here’s a job I can do,” said Dave. I’ll send a resume tomorrow.” You’ll see, I’ll have a job before you know it.”
“I sure hope so,” Mary said.
Indirect dialogue appears in summaries. The writer summarizes the dialogue spoken. It allows the writer to tell the reader what the character said. The writer uses indirect dialogue to provide a summary of what was said.
Dave said he was shocked to learn that he was fired. He also said that he will start searching for a job in the near future. His wife is anxious, and said she hopes that he can find work in the next few weeks.
Dialogue and Character
The writer can use dialogue as technique of characterization—to show how the writer thinks and feels. When using dialogue to reveal character, follow these suggestions:
- To make the dialogue realistic, create a unique voice for each character.
- Use dialogue to enable characters to speak for themselves.
- Before writing dialogue for a character, ask the following: Does the character use slang? Colloquialism? Profanity? Incorrect Grammar? Perfect English? Fragments? Complete sentences?
Dialect In Dialogue
Be careful when using dialect in dialogue. It is difficult to do well. It can be distracting. Beginner writers should avoid using dialect in dialogue.
For more information on how to use dialogue, you can read the following:
- Writing Fiction (Gotham Writer’s Workshop)
- Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich
- Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway