(About this author: Adam Santo was born and raised in Southern California before moving to Colorado for a short fifteen year stay. Currently he lives in Florida with his family. He has a passion to help with Parkinson’s Research and continually seeks out donations for finding a cure. Please follow Adam’s efforts here. His current works are The Temperature Trilogy and Ocean’s Fury. More can be found at my publisher http://www.panhandlingfantasy.com )
My first two blogs drew a simple line from doing an outline to understanding your inner characters. Now we stare down a beast that taunts me from the darkened corners in my office, dialogue. When two people talk there is chemistry – it’s an intertwining play of words that fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
Speech is just as important as the dynamic action you wrote. Although the verdict is still out about which, dialogue or narrative, is more important. I’m just going to focus my efforts somewhere in the middle. My stories tend to steer towards a narrative-driven novel, but I’ll aim for dialogue-driven one day.
When things are on the line in a particularly stressful scene what keeps the suspense going? Hearing a narrative of the action or listening to the high pitched squeal of a character as the group of teenagers are chased through the woods? This is why a controversy surrounds which is better. Here is an example of a story ruled by narrative:
John guided his little sister Triva through the dense forest. Long shadows obscured the deer trail leading back home making it difficult to traverse the narrow path. John shrugged off his backpack to pull out a flashlight. Their parents said to be home hours ago, but they had lost track of time in the deepest reaches of the arcade. Now, diminishing light made their usual shortcut home creepy.
Triva let out a yelp of fear when she tripped over well hidden tree root beneath the veil of murky fog like diaphanous spiderwebs spread across the ground. On frozen November winds an owl’s hoot ran shivers down John’s back as it few over in search of an evening meal. “We need to get home,” she pleaded.
“It isn’t far,” John consoled. He knew they were twenty minutes from home, but kept that to himself or risk scaring his little sister worse.
A slender beam of light from his flashlight lit their path a few feet where the growing darkness engulfed what light his battery-powered torch emitted. Snapping twigs stopped him abruptly, John listened intently over his sister’s heavy breathing for more movement. Silence ruled once again.
Now, what happens to the same example if we use dialogue? Let us take a look:
John guided his little sister Triva through the dense forest. “You wanted to play one more game, didn’t you?” He said in a stern voice, attempting to mimic their father’s authoritative tone.
“I refuse to lose to a boy. He took my high score,” Triva replied.
Long shadows grew over the path, “Watch your step,” John muttered as he kept his eyes on the narrow deer path. “The sun is almost gone and I can’t see where we’re walking with so much fog covering the ground. The fog is acting like it wants to stick to everything.”
Several cautious steps later, Triva gave a trembling plea, “We need to get home.” Something in the air scared her; it chased at his nerves too.
Frosty winds glided an owl overhead unseen through the surrounding trees outstretched limbs, a loud hoot shot shivers down his spine and had his sister climbing into his backpack. “It isn’t far,” John consoled. He knew they were twenty minutes from home, but kept that to himself or risk scaring his little sister worse. He shrugged off the backpack and fished out a small flashlight hoping the batteries were still good. With a click of the switch a thin beam of light shone out a few feet to vanish into thick darkness.
“What was that?” Triva whispered in hushed terror.
“Twigs breaking under a deer’s weight. It’s looking for this path we are borrowing to get home,” John told her. “If we keep moving maybe it will go away.”
He listened intently for any other movement, heavy silence ruled once more.
I’m sure you can tell the distinct difference between the two stories. There is a certain intensity created by either style, yet neither is a wrong way to tell it. Sometimes having a person say what is going on can drive the adrenaline up in a reader. Other times, build up to the action through narrative can accomplish the same thing. Try both ways to see what fits you best.
I mentioned in my last post about dialogue being the bane of my existence. I should clear that up some with an explanation. What I wrote above isn’t where I am struggling. I save half of my dialogue for when I’ve completed the manuscript so I can work out WHAT is talked about between characters. It is the conversations they have that kill me. I cannot speak for every writer, but this leisure small talk amongst characters is difficult. Sometimes I can fix my ‘small talk’ issues by digging a deeper background on each character sheet I create. Build stronger histories for them to sneak in backstory by having them talk about a past event they shared.
Short stories, novellas, and novel all have one thing in common: dialogue. Unless you’re making a silent film for print have them talk. Sometimes allow them ramble on to themselves. But, never forget to have a character speak. They need a voice, they are your voice. Let them be heard.