Dialogue is a key part of any character-driven novel. What characters say and how/why/when/where they say it is revealing. Read 5 types of dialogue your novel needs, and illustrative examples from books:
1: Dialogue introducing key characters
Dialogue is useful for introducing characters because:
- It allows subtlety. We can show crucial details of characters’ personalities without explicitly stating them in narration
- It moves quicker. Dialogue is nimbler than paragraphs of narration
- Characters’ voices gain immediacy. We meet characters through their own voices
Take this example from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The dystopian novel about a near-future world where women are enslaved for reproductive purposes is narrated by one such woman, Offred.
Here, we first meet Cora who works in the kitchen at Offred’s residence. Offred describes eavesdropping:
Sometimes I listen outside closed doors, a thing I never would have done in the time before […] Once, though, I heard Rita say to Cora that she wouldn’t debase herself like that.
Nobody asking you, Cora said. Anyways, what could you do, supposing?
Go to the Colonies, Rita said. They have the choice.
With the Unwomen, and starve to death and Lord knows what all? said Cora. Catch You.
Cora’s voice is grimly practical. [Note: Atwood leaves out speech marks in her original text.] Cora is quick to shoot down Rita’s dream of greater freedom.
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