Writing Integrated Dialogue

We’ve spent a couple of posts talking about writing dialogue. One student asks, “But how do I make my dialogue flow naturally within a scene?”

Writing Tip for Today: Writing integrated dialogue requires a blend of spoken, internal and thoughts informed by visual and sensory elements that bring scenes to life. Here are three tips:

Invisible Narrator

We’ve discussed how writing stilted, talking head or encyclopedic dialogue can jerk readers out of your scene. Same goes for trying to sneak important info into dialogue or affecting a bad dialect. All these mistakes point to one thing—you. Most readers want the narrator (you) to remain hidden to allow the characters to reenact the action.

To be an effective invisible narrator, writers must understand both the story and the characters in depth. Before you write a word of your story, uncover the character’s motivations (why is she/he pursuing this story goal), hidden or unexpressed desires and the character’s emotional landscape.

All motivations, desires and emotional expressions must somehow grow out of the character’s past trauma or emotional scars. I know this sounds dramatic, but the best stories are felt not by the mind but by the heart. Investigate your characters’ back stories not as a way to fill pages but as a way to inform your story as it unfolds. Doing so will go a long way toward helping you stay invisible.

Blend, Baby

One of the easiest ways to elevate your fictional scene is by learning to blend, weave, braid important elements. But this blending must have a hierarchy.  With your dialogue, you are showing readers the manifestation of the action, thoughts and emotions the character experiences. This means you cannot rely on dialogue to carry all the weight.

By blending your dialogue with action, inner thought, emotion and some description and/or back story, you can help readers have the most complete experience. Start with that Rule of Three but don’t stop there. Vary the order in which the dialogue appears.

Surround a line of dialogue with action, thought or emotion as an attribution. In fact, many writers today rarely use he said. They eliminate attributions by placing these action, thought, emotion markers next to the dialogue. Mixing up the order and varying the surrounding “beats” will smooth out prose that’s in danger of becoming sing-song or boring (same thing, right?)

Surround dialogue with action, thought or emotion.

Weigh Each Line

By relying less on dialogue and more on these other elements, readers get a three-dimensional reading experience. Take the next step by learning to weigh carefully each spoken line. Don’t allow your characters to natter (chit-chat), shoot the breeze or say things a real person would not say.

Vary the dialogue so that all of the characters don’t sound like you. Each character should have his/her own goals, desires and motives. If you do your homework, this will give your character a unique voice. These unique styles not only help readers distinguish between characters, they also help readers dissolve into the story so that the fictional dream is continuous.

Make every line of dialogue count. Find creative ways to let your characters speak while also hinting at the larger story elements such as goal and theme. By giving each line of dialogue a bit of the attitude (emotion) the character holds, your scene will keep your readers invested and they’ll keep reading.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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