How important is story people dialogue (both internal and external) to your story?
Well, truthfully – it’s EVERYTHING!
Whether your story is in first person or third, the actual words spoken, and the actual thoughts, of your characters tell us most everything about themselves. It is true that ‘action speaks louder than words,’ but when a character’s actions do not match their spoken words – or thoughts – a storyline can get very interesting.
Here are some examples of dialogue from my mystery, COBWEBS. What do they reveal about both the characters and what is happening in the story?
All of these are found in Chapter 1 (the first five pages) of the book, and introduce you to three very important characters, including Jamie, the protagonist and a middle-aged science teacher; Elizabeth – her elderly great aunt; and Ben Mazie, an Osage Indian attorney and friend of Elizabeth’s.
Elizabeth: “Come now, Jamie. You must come before it’s too late.” opening line. (What is Elizabeth’s state of mind? Can you tell her age from the way she speaks?)
Jamie (internal dialogue): I had a bad feeling about this sudden trip to my great-aunt’s home in Oklahoma. And the weather was not giving me any reason to change my expectations. Instead, my imagination went into high gear. (What does the reader learn about Jamie? She is intuitive and imaginative – and aware of her surroundings.)
Jamie (internal dialogue): Bits of my dark memory rushed back from where I had buried them: blackness; the scent of earth and damp and mildew; the feel of coarse string as I touched … something. (More about Jamie. The reader learns she has a suppressed memory, and is afraid.)
Sam (as he meets Jamie): “When I learned you were coming, I came over to wait with her. I’ll go now.” (Does this make the reader suspicious? Why is Sam so eager to rush off?)
Sam (after Jamie asks Sam about her aunt): “Her mind comes and goes. She is tired. It is good you came.” (Does this change the reader’s mind about Sam? He is honest, and concerned about Elizabeth’s health. He is, perhaps, thoughtful and not overly conversational.)
Elizabeth (after Jamie enters her bedroom): “Jamie,” Aunt Elizabeth breathed. She pressed her lips together, raised her thin eyebrows, and began to hum off-key. …Aunt Elizabeth stopped humming and closed her eyes. Her wrinkles deepened as she grimaced.
Jamie (internal dialogue at this same moment): She looked skeletal, far worse than I expected. I stroked her hand and felt my heart thud to the bottom of my chest. (Now, the reader learns about Elizabeth’s condition, and how much Jamie loves her.)
As a writer, I love looking back on what my character’s have to say. It is almost as if I didn’t write it. The characters told me what they needed to say at that moment. It’s all part of the way story people take on lives of their own as a writer works to give them voice.
Watch for more next week on what other character’s have to say in, COBWEBS – A SUSPENSE NOVEL.