When writing dialogue, it’s important to consider both what the character is saying, and what they are revealing. There are 4 ways that dialogue can reveal new information to the audience:
1. Questions a character asks.
2. Statements a character makes.
3. How a character responds
4. Vague Remarks & Implications
Goals in Dialogue
All conversations center around a topic. The topic may change over time, but typically there is one focus at any given time. In turn, every character participating in the conversation has a goal in mind. Typically a dialogue goal will center around information, either trying to learn, impart, or conceal information. For example, two characters in a car might debate whether to take the highway or stay on back roads. The focus of the conversation is determining which route they’ll take.
Choice plays a critical role in any story. Much of the meaning found in stories is exemplified in the choices characters make, as well as the consequences that follow. And yet, I feel that most characters make very few real choices over the course of their story. And I think that’s necessary. Too many choices can overwhelm an audience, just as too few often make for a boring story.
When sword and sorcery fail, only words remain.
Dialogue focused scenes drive stories inward, emphasizing the character’s inner conflict.
Some techniques for controlling pacing are universal to writing: sentence length, content, etc. (See 206 Pacing for more information about pacing in general.) But dialogue also has two unique technique for managing its pacing: manner of speech, and collaborative vs conflicting dialogue.