Monday, October 22, 2012

Dialogue: What You Don't Say

Dialogue: What You Don't Say

Do you ever wonder why some dialogue works in stories and some doesn't? Why you can picture one conversation better than another? In my vast reading, I've come to the conclusion it is often what the character doesn't say that is just as important as what they do!

People aren't robots that lay out lines and leave their conversation at that. We wave our hands, wiggle our eyebrows, shift in our seats, cross our legs, nod, shrug ... the choices are endless. The point is, body language is vital to good dialogue. This is, of course, a big part of the aspect of writing considered 'showing'.

For example:

"It was this big," she said.


"It was. Maybe even bigger."

"Did you actually see it?" I asked.

"Well yeah. If you come over tonight you can see it too. I know you want to."

So, what do you think? Do you have any idea of what the conversation is about? Can you picture it?

"It was this big," she said.  She spread her palms apart.

My mouth dropped open. "No!"

She grinned. "It was." She pushed her hands farther apart. "Maybe even bigger."

I leaned over the table. "Did you actually see it?" I asked.

"Well yeah. If you come over tonight you can see it too. I know you want to."

I covered my face with my hands but I couldn't block out her giggles.

See the difference? The second option is much richer and shows you the character's emotions, yet all I did was show actions, no thoughts or emotions. We subconciously associate certain actions and positions with certain emotions and moods. Body language tells us how characters feel about the subject they are discussing and the person they are speaking to without having to actually spell it out for the reader. Authors have to go beyond the character's words themselves and add the appropriate body language, if they want to have a successful flow to their story dialogue.

A key to providing those physical cues comes from knowing them. Observation is the best method for picking up on those subtle clues we tend to forget we even notice. One way is to people watch. It can be done anywhere, the grocery store, coffee shop, club, park, work... and then the author can incorporate what is seen while writing. Keep an ear out for the dialogue at the same time, of course, and twice the work is done at one time!


  1. Thanks for the tip, CIA. Congratulations on your book btw. :))

    1. Welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed the tip article and thanks so much! :) I've been very excited about it.


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