How To Dialogue

“So, what is that? That massive white mass?”

“What? That? Oh, that’s the pile of salt I bought to illustrate a point.”

“Really, Brandon?”

“Yep—made sense at the time.”

“How the heck did you afford such a thing?”

“Eh, you don’t want to know. It involves more mustard than you thought reasonable and a howler monkey I like to call Steve.”

“You just wrote it into existence, didn’t you?”

“Okay. Yeah. But it shows what I need them to know. My advice, especially this advice, is more just my opinion: and they need to know that if they are reading this.”

“Okay, well, point made. So, what are we talking about this time, Brandon? Are you still hammering away at teaching writing tips?”

“I am. I haven’t hit every topic yet, after all. And today I am talking about dialogue, and how to write it—or at least a way to go about it.”

“Is that why you have this all as dialogue? Are you being meta again?”

“Yes, yes I am. It’s kind of one of my favorite things, and all dialogue seemed like a fun gimmick.”
“Emphasis on the word ‘gimmick.’”

“Oh, quiet you—but not really. This call and response thing makes the game more fun. So, here’s what I can say about dialogue. First off—”

“Wait! Aren’t you going to talk about how dialogue is a tool, and not to rely on it too much to set things up for the reader? That you need a combo of it and description to get across a scene?”
“Well, now I have. Thanks, fake conversation partner. So, as I was going to say: in fiction at least, dialogue has a goal. I call it the ‘punch line,’ though it need not be funny. Or even come at the end of a joke.”

“So, then, why call it that?”

“Well, I don’t have an exact reason for using that term. But it feels right. And, here’s the point: in real life, chit-chat is sometimes random and useless and exists to pass the time. But a book, a story, is a piece of entertainment: so, don’t just dump all this random stuff on their heads, and then expect them to go through the slog.”

“So, it has to have a purpose?”

“Yeah, exactly. Right on the money, my illustrative buddy. When you start a line of dialogue, when two characters go at it verbally—no matter the context—know how the conversation ends when you begin writing it. What it reveals, what it builds towards, and what you want to achieve. A conversation can have multiple punch lines, and can hit one then work to set up another.”

“That’s one way to think of it.”

“It’s my way of thinking of it. I lay the groundwork, I set the verbal habits of the players, and I know what it builds toward. Good interplay of dialogue will read—even if containing a ton of deviation and interruptions (and in fact maybe more so when it does)—like a dance and poem coming from many mouths. All going toward the point of the conversation. There’s a winner, a loser, a battle, in every talk. Combatants racing for who gets the last word, and who leaves the biggest scar or spot of light on the entire enterprise.”

“That sounds hard.”

“Not really. Ever wanted to ask someone out on a date, or for a favor? Or anything like that? No matter what the goal, even at the point of opening pleasantries, you are moving toward it, psychically. Yanking the line toward the endpoint. You are setting up a delivery, without alerting the receiver quite yet to the destination.”

“That’s kind of cool.”

“Isn’t it, though?”

Special thanks to: Bob GerkinCollin PearmanDylan AlexanderJerry Banfield, and Michael The Comic Nerd. 

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