In my debut novel “It Can‘t Be You“ Shefali Belliappa is very annoyed with her father Colonel Belliappa for opposing Rashid whom she loves. The Colonel has recently re-married. His bride, a German lady some twenty years younger than him and only four years older than his daughter . Let’s see this extract from the book:
Shefali. “Enough of your match making, Dad” she said “ You have tried that for years. Let me make one thing abundantly clear. As far as I am concerned it is Rashid or nobody’
“I’ll settle for nobody” said the Colonel and laughed loudly at his own joke.
“You already have – and at your age” snapped Shefali angrily and walked off before the Colonel could retort. She didn’t look back. If she had, she would have been pleased to see him left red in the face, choking with anger.
Although I wrote it myself, I particularly liked this dialogue. I hope you did too. Through this I tried to convey the irony that while Col Belliappa considered Rashid a “nobody”, Shefali felt the same about his new wife, her step-mother.
It’s dialogue that lubricates a story and moves it along. Dialogues can be used to explain situations, make characters indicate their feeling and emotions or just explain things from their standpoint. Experts almost universally say that good stories “show” more than “tell”. This means dialogues set up situations for readers to draw conclusions themselves, instead of the author over-explaining things to them.
In my own experience, I like to think that over the last year or so that I have taken to writing, my dialogues have improved! I too have been guilty of over explaining. Don’t ever underestimate the intelligence of your audience. Besides, not every reader is obliged to see things from your point of view. They could read more or less into any description or dialogue.
At the same time, don’t use dialogue to puff pages or extend the story. Look at this example when two old friends meet:
David: “ So how are you? All well?” Clara : “ All well. And with you?” David “ Fine. How’s everyone?” Clara “Good! And at yours”? ’David “ Great. So things have been good”? Clara “ Look like that’s the case with you too”.
Has this dialogue added value to the story? Has it moved things along? If it hasn’t, drop it!!
Great dialogue is remembered long after we are through with the book. I have read Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic “ Gone With The Wnd” several times over the years. Who can forget Scarlett O’Hara asking Rhett Butler at the very end ” Where shall I go? What shall I do?” and his reply which has gone down in history:”Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”!