Talking in writing
The power of dialogue
A few weeks ago, my children were looking through a book about the great Fire of London, when they read that some children had helped to put out the fire back in 1666.
“They were so brave!” one of my children said.
“No, they were so silly!” the other one replied. “Children are delicate, they can get hurt.”
They were not only reading facts, they were engaging with them by talking about it, expressing their opposite views and feelings about something that happened a long time ago. Children spend lots of time listening to what adults say, but they also have their own ideas, and it’s always refreshing to hear what they have to say. How can we make that show up in their stories?
Speech can make your story much richer, and if you tire of writing down setting descriptions (or character descriptions), you can include these in the dialogue.
“Dora, I’m so happy we came to this park!”
“Me too! I love how much space to run we have here, and the swings and the slide are amazing.”
We can tell where the characters are not from the narrator, but from the characters themselves.
Dialogue can make a story much livelier when we get to hear different voices, especially if they are distinctive; though we can have stories with one character and still enjoy listening to/reading words they say, with their particular way of speaking.
What are you saying?
Dialogue can be exciting when characters react to each other’s statements and questions, while it can be the perfect bedtime story if all that the characters are doing is asking each other yes-no questions which are not moving the story forward. For example:
“Are you tired?”
“Are you sure?”
Are the characters going somewhere with this?
As with any story we are writing, dialogue has to have some sort of goal or intention. If the dialogue is there simply to provide a break between descriptive paragraphs, perhaps it will not be as strong or purposeful. If we use it to show what the characters want (their goals or wishes) and how they react to each other’s lines, we are more likely to have action and move the story forward.
How do we make dialogue fit into a story?
The technical bits
Remember to use speech marks (also known as quotation marks or inverted commas) whenever a character speaks. Everything we put between speech marks shows what the character actually said, and what comes afterwards is additional information, such as who said it and how they said it (the girl said, he shouted, or they cheered). Use speech marks from the beginning of a person’s speech until right after the last punctuation mark, be it a comma, a full stop, an exclamation mark or a question mark. See the example below:
“I’m so excited about this sentence!” she squealed.
“Why?” he wondered.
We are not obliged to include these additional words at the end, especially if the dialogue is long. It can be tiresome to read a succession of he said and she replied, line after line. If it is quite clear who is talking, we can use the characters’ names sparingly. Also, do not worry too much about choosing elaborate verbs such as screeched, admonished, asserted and so on. It is better to focus on making the actual dialogue interesting.
Your children always have interesting things to say, I’m sure their characters too!