In Defense of Dialogue in Fiction and Beyond – Karen Bridges | Guest Post

“… It’s there in the air between us, that electricity. It’s palpable. I can almost taste it, pulsing between us, drawing us together.” E.L. James, 50 Shades of Grey.

Palpable electricity that pulses and you can taste it. What does it taste like? If you know the answer, share it with us in the comments below, please, because we’d all appreciate an explanation.

This is the moment where the author should make a note in the text and explain what she means. Maybe this way she’d reflect upon the passage and change it into something more understandable? However, the milk is spilt. The damage has been done. The book got published.

No wonder that after reading such novels like E.L. James’s novel, you hate dialogue and think it’s pure evil. Is it, really?

Don’t assess all novels and dialogues by a single example. The fact that a character’s passages from one book are boring, unrealistic and unintelligible doesn’t mean that you should stop developing dialogue in your novel. It means, you should learn from other people’s mistakes.

Remember, not every dialogue is a bad dialogue.


Good Dialogue vs. Bad Dialogue

There are many mistakes you can make while constructing dialogue between characters or a character’s monologue. Let’s take a look at what is the difference between good and bad dialogue, shall we?

  1. Should you use formal or informal language?

Many writers, especially beginner writers, forget that in order to create believable characters, you need to allow them to speak like real people. We don’t speak the same language that coursebooks do. We don’t speak correctly all the time. Sometimes, we make mistakes on purpose, to enhance the message or because it’s comfortable. And, since we do that, your characters should too. This way they will seem less robot-like and more human.

  1. How many dialogue tags are too many?

A dialogue tag is a short phrase that informs the reader who’s speaking, for example: she said, I answered, asked Sarah. Some writers overuse dialogue tags and, thus, readers get bored. In order to make the tags unnoticeable, you should use them when it’s impossible to figure out who’s speaking. It happens when you write a dialogue with three or more characters involved. Then, add dialogue tags often, but make them short and easy to get.

  1. How often should you use character names? 

Ask yourself, how often do you use your friend’s name when you talk to him or her when you meet? Not too often, right? Thus, don’t pollute your dialogue with too many character names. If you still don’t feel convinced, take a look at the dialogue below. Does it sound attractive?

“Where have you been, John?!”

“I was saddling the horse, Maggie. What’s happened?”

“The major came, John. He’s in the living room!”

“Calm down, Maggie. I’ll explain him everything.”

“Hurry up, John!”

Do we speak like that in everyday life? No, of course, we don’t! So, in order to write a good dialogue, don’t use character names in every line. Make breaks, instead.

  1. Is that a novel or a play?

Another mistake writers make is that they forget a novel is not a play. A dialogue taking one or two pages is fine. A dialogue taking five pages is far too much. Remember that great novels consist of both narrative and dialogue. One cannot exist without the other. If there’s too much description, readers get bored. If there’s too much dialogue, readers get exhausted. Thus, find balance.

  1. Are all the characters introverted or does it just seem that way to me?

Not everyone’s introverted and not everyone’s extroverted. Also, not every person speaks properly. Some make mistakes, some tend to speak slang and some curse a lot. Thus, remember, even though your characters speak one language, they shouldn’t speak it in the same way. If they do, your readers will not be able to differentiate between them. So, add special features to every character’s speech. It might be a word they tend to overuse, curse words or grammar mistakes. Be creative! Show your readers that every character has their own unique personality.

Now that we understand not all dialogue is bad dialogue, let’s figure out why dialogue is an essential part of every novel. That’s right! Every novel. After all, you’re not writing a biography, a history book or a coursebook. You’re writing a novel to engage your readers! And in order to engage your readers, you need to use dialogue.


The Role of Dialogue in Fiction

  1. Dialogue pushes the action forward

Dialogue is a great tool to change the course of the story. In crime fiction, a single conversation at a meeting can lead to a suicide or murder. A few words whispered to someone’s ears might cause conflict. A dialogue between a mother saying farewell to her son can help to change the scene. Thus, as you can see, dialogue can advance the story. So, make a good use of it!

  1. Dialogue reveals a character and their motivation

Thanks to dialogue we can learn more about a character’s personality and motivation. If you want to ask if it wouldn’t be the same to simply describe your character’s personality instead of crafting a fancy dialogue that would reveal it, here’s the answer: no, it wouldn’t. Why? Well, because descriptions are boring. People want to see their characters alive. They want to see themselves in them. And, dialogue allows for it. This helps your readers to identify with your characters. It creates bonds.

  1. Dialogue elicits emotions in your readers

I know what you want to say: “Wait a minute! Doesn’t a description of a character’s state evoke emotions in readers as well?” Yes, it does. You can elicit emotions in readers with a great narrative passage. However, many people forget that you can do so as well with dialogue. Moreover, dialogue can enhance the description and make the scene even more emotional.

  1. Dialogue makes the story more attractive to readers 

Dialogue is reader-friendly and it’s necessary for readers to stay engaged with the story. Nobody likes to read huge blocks of text. Even bloggers, when they write a blog post, need to remember to use few sentences in every paragraph and split the text into bullet points, add pictures, headers and tables. This makes the text easier to read and doesn’t scare away readers. The same goes with writing fiction. Dialogue breaks up passages of description and action and makes the story look attractive to your readers.

Now that you understand that dialogue is important and it’s an essential part of fiction, let’s consider: is dialogue necessary and beneficial only in novels?


Dialogue in Nonfiction

If you write nonfiction and think that you shouldn’t employ dialogue in your text, you’re wrong! Here are three ways in which dialogue in nonfiction can be a great tool to liven up your work:

  1. Dialogue works as a hook: one information makes a story,
  2. Direct quotes evoke emotions in readers: when facts wear a human face, they are more real and believable,
  3. Quotes transmit both information and emotions: a short dialogue makes up for a long description.


Wrapping it up

There are three lessons I want you to remember after reading this article:

Lesson no. 1: Not every dialogue is a bad dialogue.

Lesson no. 2: Dialogue is a great tool that helps you construct your novel and engage your readers.

Lesson no. 3: You can and you should use dialogue in nonfiction – it will liven up your work.


Share the post if you liked it and found it helpful! If there is more to say in defense of dialogue, let us know in the comments below!



Karen Bridges loves literature, Spanish, and blogging. Her biggest ambition is to read the original text of El Canto de Mio Cid. Recently, she’s been contributing a lot to Omnipapers reviews.

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