One of the most powerful forms of interaction between characters is dialogue. There’s so much you can communicate in the back and forth exchange between two people. There’s almost a lyrical aspect to it, with beats that keep the rhythm of the scene.
Dialogue is my favorite part of the narrative. It creates great opportunities to interject exposition elements, like backstory, in an organic way. What I really like about dialogue is that it allows me to reveal the personality traits of my characters, their strengths, their flaws, in a way that is very natural to the reader.
Here’s a sample of dialogue from my WIP, ‘Snow Birds.’ In this part, the main character, Katie, is trying to get her kids Michael, Gloria and Stevie out the door and to the sitter so she can get to work.
Gloria is sitting on the floor, contemplating her shoes, he coat lays next to her.
“Gloria! Get moving!”
Gloria’s head snaps up. “I am moving!” She whines.
“No you’re not, you’re just sitting there!”
“I’m putting my shoes on!”
“Put them on faster!”
“Fine!” Gloria slowly slips on one shoe and then pauses before she grabs the next.
“Hurry up!” Katie urges.
“I am!” she whines.
“No you’re not! Get you goddamn shoes on!”
Gloria starts to make whining noises, a precursor to crying.
“I’m ready to go, Mom.” Michael interjects.
“I can see that, Michael.” Katie snaps.
“Gloria, you’ve got 10 seconds to get your shoes on I’m going to boom your butt!”
Gloria whines even more and slowly put on her other shoe.
“Now get on your coat!” Why did she have to yell everything? Why couldn’t they just do what they were supposed to do without problem or complaint? Why did everything have to be such an ordeal?
Gloria starts a full out crying fit by the time she picks up her coat and slowly slides it on. Katie turns to Michael.
“Grab your book bag and go get in the car.” She picks up Stevie and places him on her hip, waiting for Gloria who continues to move as slowly as possible in protest. Finally she has her coat on and zips it up.
“Now put on your hat and mittens and let’s go!” Katie turns and walks out the door to the car. She straps Stevie in his carseat and makes sure Michael is secure in his booster. She walks around to start the car to heat it up and then goes back into the house to get Gloria.
Katie practically bumps into her as she is walking swiftly into the house. Gloria is dressed and ready to go with her backpack on her back. She is sniffling and apparently quite put out.
“Are you ready?” Katie asks.
“Yes!” Gloria barks.
“Fine! Get in the car!’
Katie turns aside and lets her pass. Gloria stomps off and Katie follows, locking the door behind them. They all clamber into the car and head over to the sitters house.
I found this piece interesting to write because I could see it from both perspectives; memories of the child being stubborn and indignant as well as the feelings of frustration from the mother trying to get the headstrong child moving.
I think that letting go and allowing the characters ‘talk’ to each other is a big part of creating good dialogue. I like to sit quietly and let the voices in my head run wild, then just type out what they say, leaving the editing for later.
Dialogue is such an important part of all my writing. It’s a lyrical and organic way to communicate so much about my characters. How do you feel about dialogue? How do you reveal your character traits and backstory in your work? Feel free to answer in the comments below.