When a character speaks, regardless of the topic, they’re also revealing things about themselves, their unique perspective on the topic at hand. When a character chooses to speak (or whether they choose to speak) implies what is important to them, just as how they respond demonstrates their mood and general opinion on the topic, and their opinion of those around them.
The last post discussed what could be considered the two basic forms of dialogue: questions and statements. But dialogue is also about what’s left unsaid, especially when a speaker actively and intentionally chooses to omit or withhold information.
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.