Where Do You Insert Dialogue?

Someone asked me where they should insert dialogue into the novel they were writing. I went blank for a moment, unable to comprehend the question. Insert dialogue? To a great extent, dialogue is the story.  The most personal way people interact is by dialogue, and a story is or should be about people interacting,  about relationships. Even  action-oriented stories come down to a basic relationship: the hero vs the villain. 

A better question might be where to insert exposition, but even that is a specious question. Nothing in a novel should be inserted. Each element should flow one into the other, making a cohesive whole. I’ve heard people say that they’ve finished writing their novel, now all they have left is to go back and insert the symbolism. If you have to insert something for the sake of inserting it, it’s better to leave it out. Symbols, like other elements should flow out of the story. 

Novels need to balanced. Dialogue interspersed with exposition or action makes for a more interesting story than dialogue or exposition or action alone. A novel that is mostly dialogue seems lightweight; a novel with too much exposition feels heavy-handed; a novel that is all action gets boring after a while. 

One way to make sure the elements flow together is to know what you are trying to accomplish. What kind of story are you writing? What is your story goal? What is your premise? What is the core conflict? Once you know the core of your story, you can make sure every element connects to it. Sometimes you won’t know the core until you’ve finished the first draft. In which case, just write, let the words flow out of you and into the story. Then, when the draft is finished, read it to see what you have. Do any themes jump out at you? What is the gist of the story (the core conflict)? How can you use the various story elements help you bring out that conflict? Does every action have a reaction? Does every reaction have a cause? Which element will bring the conflict into sharper focus? If a particular conflict is a physical one, then action interspersed with terse comments is best. If a particular conflict is personal, then dialogue interspersed with bits of action is best. 

Where to insert dialogue, then, is not the real question. The real question is what do you want to say, and how do you want to say it?

Creating a Character — Part I

Plot without characters to give it life is merely a recitation of activity, and characters without plot to give them meaning go nowhere. The best way to learn about your characters is to throw them into the plot and see what they do, what they say, and what they think. In this bizarre merry-go-round called fiction writing, however, characters drive plot, which means that you need to know who your characters are before you can begin figuring out where they are going.

I have always had a general idea of who my main character was before I started writing a novel, but I have never created a history or a full-bodied character sketch for him or her beforehand. Although the writing experts say such a sketch is necessary, I never saw the point in generating material I would not use. But since I am getting nowhere with my latest writing venture, I thought I would try it. See where it leads.

I decided the hero is going to be a man. Originally I had planned on a woman, but as I said in an earlier post, the man has the stronger story and the more poignant choices to make, so he will make a better point-of-view character. For purposes of this sketch, I will call him Chip.

What I know so far about Chip’s history is that his mother is overbearing and interfering. Though she lives only an hour away, she came to visit and stayed for months. He hates himself for being a wimp and not kicking her out, but she is his mother, after all, and she has no one but him — his father ran out on them when Chip was in grade school. The story begins (and the world begins to end) the night Chip asks his mother to leave.

Chip is thirty-three, the owner of a pet store, and currently without a girlfriend. Perhaps he is leery of a relationship, not wanting to end up with someone like his mother. Other than that, I’m not sure I want to get into his background. Do we need to know where he went to school? What his childhood was like? What his failures and lost opportunities were? Do we care about his politics, his beliefs, his travels, his ex-girlfriends? Seems boring to me, and I can’t see that it makes any difference when the world is ending.

Most books on writing say that an interesting and enduring character must have a strong desire, a goal he will do anything to achieve, but do Chip’s present desires really matter when everything is about to change? To begin with, Chip’s only desire is to get his mother out of his apartment, though later he will want desperately to escape the human zoo where he has been incarcerated. Is that enough to propel the story? Or do I need to give him another desire, one that he has at the beginning and that follows him throughout his adventures, until at the end he gets either what he wants or what he deserves?

I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,402 other followers