Speech is a powerful tool. It is the way we express ourselves, our likes, dislikes and opinions. In books, dialogue has many uses. It:
Brings the characters alive. Notice how everyone expresses themselves in different ways, uses different tones of voice, different sentence construction, chooses different words to say similar things. Think how dialogue individualises people. When you answer the phone to a friend, colleague or member of your family you usually know who it is without them telling you. You know by the tone of their voice and the way they express themselves. When you write your reader should know who is speaking before they read the name of the speaker, again by the way they express themselves. Make sure that every character in your story expresses themselves differently, speaks with their own voice.
Moves the story forward. Just a sentence of dialogue can move the story along. For example, your character and a friend have been searching for something for ages. “I’ve found it!” Emma shouted. Just those three words tell us the search is over.
Informs the reader of facts. Dialogue can be used to give your reader information about one of the characters, a recent development, something that is about to happen or any other fact they need to know.
Sets the emotional mood. A character’s speech can lighten the mood of the story or increase the drama and suspense.
Describes an action. A simple phrase such as “For goodness sake, Jenny stop fidgeting!” can tell us a lot about a character.
Foreshadows plot development. A sentence of dialogue can often tell the reader that something important is about to happen far more effectively than a chunk of narrative. “What’s that strange light in the sky?” Vicky shouted. “It’s coming nearer. It’s…it’s a spaceship!”
Sustains the reader’s interest. Children (and many adults) find dialogue more interesting than narrative so realistic dialogue can keep them interested, especially in the middle of the story where it can often go flat.
Never use dialogue just for the sake of it. It must serve a purpose and advance the plot in some way.
Write a piece of dialogue showing two characters having an argument. Think about your characters and how they would talk, try to give each character a distinctive 'voice' so you would know which character is speaking without the speech tags.
If you're writing a children's story you'll find more useful tips in my book, GET WRITING: CHILDREN'S FICTION.
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