Lesson 100 – Dialogue in MAJOR Scenes

The past two lessons have been on dialogue. Darcie covered what not to do, and Kim tackled the difference between dialogue tags and action beats. If you haven’t read those lessons yet, please do so now because what I’m going to cover assumes you already understand both the concepts and terms they covered.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about MAJOR scenes vs. minor ones. Every scene and every exchange of dialogue is important, but there are turning points which the reader must understand or the rest of the story doesn’t make sense. Imagine you’re at the cinema watching The Wizard of Oz for the first time, knowing nothing about the story. You leave to get popcorn when the tornado drops Dorothy into Munchkin Land. You left the theater when the picture was black and white, came back to color, and nothing looks like it does in the real world of Kansas. You’re lost and have to bother the person next to you before the action makes sense again.

That’s a MAJOR scene.

In writing, we don’t have the benefit of changing the print from black and white to rainbow colors. So we need to make sure the reader is fully engaged. Anything that makes the reader skip is bad, bad, bad. I asked each of the Nookers how they handled dialogue in major scenes. Here are their responses:

Darcie uses dialogue to drive the scene. (Minor scenes may be more introspective or more into one POV rather than a full-out discussion.)

Kayla writes her scene, and then she’ll say the dialogue out loud to see how it flows. She doesn’t “act out” all of her dialogue scenes—just the ones that build tension/conflict/humor.

Kim also acts out her dialogue, including the action beats, and eliminates tags.

Like Darcie, I use dialogue to drive the scene, but I keep each speaker’s words short so the paragraph breaks come fast and furious. New paragraphs draw the eye. To break up the monotony of too many short paragraphs in a row, I add a few longer sections of dialogue or introspection. Like Kim, I avoid dialogue tags unless my characters are talking so fast they aren’t moving or thinking much and I need something to designate which character is speaking so readers don’t lose track.

It would be bad, bad, bad to make readers stop and start counting backwards to see who’s talking now.

Finally, make sure you are using the dialogue to drive conflict. Here’s another quote from Darcie: “…keep the motivation of each speaker in mind. It’s really fun when each speaker has different goals for the conversation. One may want to elude while another is confrontational. One might want to be coy and misleading, while the other wants to cut to the chase. Dialogue shows the reader how characters think as well as interact with other people. It’s critical to let those personality traits fly their respective flags.”

Great advice!

With pen to paper,

Becca

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