Good dialogue usually comes in one of three flavours: funny, thought-provoking or emotional. Now, I can’t really teach you how to be funny; comedy is something you have to feel your way through. But thought-provoking is something we can work on. First and foremost, let’s stamp out a misconception before it has time to take root in your mind. Not all dialogue has to fall into one of the three categories I just listed. Dialogue can be an artistic expression in and of itself – a kind of prose within the prose of your novel – but it doesn’t have to aspire to the heights of artistic expression in every scene.
Sometimes dialogue is just there to provide the exposition necessary to push the story forward. But if all of your dialogue reads this way, your story will become very boring, and your characters will be flat and uninteresting. One important trick is to give each character their own unique dialogue style. This applies not just to what they say but also to how they say it.
So how do you write thought-provoking dialogue?
The key is to explore the logical implications of the story you’re telling and the world in which it takes place. If that sounds a little abstract, try to understand that your approach should vary depending on your story. For instance, my novel Symbiosis takes place in a universe where human civilizations flourished on multiple worlds throughout the galaxy. Ten thousand years ago, a mysterious race called the Overseers took primitive humans and scattered them on dozens of Earth-like planets. Here’s a brief snippet of dialogue from a scene that explores this issue. Anna is a young woman who, after pursuing a wanted criminal through the cosmos, happened to stumble across Earth. Jack, on the other hand, was born and raised here.
“Overseers,” Jack said. “I’ve never heard of the Overseers.”
Anna turned partway around, looking over her shoulder. She frowned at him, her face scrunched up. “You think your people evolved here?” she mumbled. “You honestly believe that?”
“Anna, we did evolve here.”
“That’s not possible,” she said. “Terra Prime was lost.”
Jack leaned back against the couch cushions.
Throwing his head back, he grinned up at the ceiling. “Well, congratulations, sweet pea,” he said, eyebrows rising. “Because you’ve just found it. This is the planet where our species evolved.”
So, let’s look at the implications of this.
In this one exchange, we learn several important things. One: space-faring humans in other parts of the galaxy are not aware of Earth’s location. This should automatically raise an interesting question. Why? Why have they never found their lost homeworld?
Two: why is it that the existence of the Overseers is common knowledge throughout the galaxy but not on Earth? What does that imply about the Overseers’ motivations? In a scene that handles the otherwise tedious business of exposition, you get plenty of food for thought.
To write thought-provoking dialogue, you have to analyze the dynamics of your story. You must relate facts that will prompt questions in your reader’s mind. Don’t ask the question directly; just lead him in that direction. And most importantly, do not answer the question. You want your reader to be spinning theories, pondering what you have in store for him.
So try your hand at some thought-provoking dialogue, and we’ll see you here next week.
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
And Kobo http://bit.ly/1Jb7NAo
It’s had some great reviews!