Braiding a Dialogue Scene

My method to build knots in the Celtic or Arab...

There is more to dialogue than talking heads. Dialogue scenes have four threads that may or may not be enclosed in quotation marks. Talk is what makes a dialogue scene, of course. Characters communicating and clashing through words. That is the first thread. The second thread is description. Description is difficult to handle through talking but grounds the reader and helps with mood. A limitation of talk is that it can only touch the surface. While this is what we must settle for in real life, the written word is a different medium. The third thread is character thoughts. The fourth thread is action. Every scene moves the plot forward and while talking allows decisions to be made, a conversation is not a concrete action. Action is usually needed to proved a sense of forward story movement. These threads braid together to create a complete scene.

  • Talk: Talk is what the characters actually say. Talk is usually short and fast – rarely more than three sentences at a time. This usually speeds up the pace. When the pace begins to drag, consider using more talk (but only talk with purpose).

  • Description: To avoid “talking heads”, the reader needs to know the setting. This can be partially conveyed in dialogue but some will simply need to be written. Description usually slows the scene down so look for places that the pace is too fast or a description of setting is necessary. A quick reminder: description does not need to be static. Active description will slow the pace less than passive descriptions.

  • Thought: Thought adds depth and logic by telling (not showing) the view-point character’s unspoken reactions. After all, the logical flow of a scene is stimulus-reaction-action. Thought is a way to show reaction. Talking is always an action. It may express a reaction, but it is exactly that – an expression. Thought can also add depth to the conversation by sharing with the reader what the character cannot – or will not – say aloud. Thought can emphasize emotion and reveal motives, lies, rationalizations, or inner conflict.

  • Action: Decisions can be made through talking but talking alone does not change the world. Physical action is needed to carry out any resolution or impulse. Physical motion gives readers a feeling of forward motion in the story. Even small actions during dialogue can accelerate the pace of the scene. And action makes dialogue more realistic since conversations seldom last long without some kind of physical movment.

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