Dialogue is key in any story. But is your dialogue working for your story? Is it pulling its weight? Dialogue in story should never be there for the sake of being there; it must always serve a purpose:
- convey information
- forward the plot
- illuminate character
Here is a very simple example to illustrate how a few lines of dialogue can accomplish these three tasks:
“The bomb is set to go off at precisely 2:35,” Earnest said.
“A.M. or P.M.?” Frank asked.
“I don’t know.”
“We’ve got to get that bomb back!”
What do we know?
- Frank and Earnest know that a bomb is set.
- They don’t know when it will go off.
- They want to get the bomb before it explodes.
We really don’t know anything else yet. Did Frank or Earnest set the bomb? Are they cops who received a tip about a bomb? Do they know where the bomb is? A few more lines of dialogue supplies additional information that builds suspense, creates a sense of urgency, tells us about Frank and Earnest and a little of their history.
“Uh, it’s almost two-thirty,” Earnest said.
“So?” Frank replied.
“So …” Earnest hesitated. “I set the bomb to go off at precisely 2:35.”
“I know that,” Frank said impatiently.
“Yeah, but was that A.M. or P.M.?”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Earnest began. “I can’t remember which I used…”
“Not again!” Frank groaned. “You moron — we’ve got to get that bomb back!”
“Love to help, but I’ve got a root canal at three. See ya!”
What do we know now?
- The bomb could be going off in about five minutes: a huge sense of urgency!
- Frank and Earnest are working together.
- Earnest set the bomb, so he has some skills in setting and detonating a bomb.
- Earnest lacks the common sense to be trusted with something so important.
- Frank and Earnest have worked together before.
- Earnest has made this mistake before.
- Earnest is not a good friend to Frank. He leaves him in a bind with no apparent remorse.
- Why would Frank continue to work with Earnest? He could be exceedingly loyal or just an idiot.
— Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing for Young Adults, pgs 149-152
For more tips about writing dialogue, check out this article at Project Team Beta about writing realistic dialogue.
Write a confrontation scene between two characters that is totally comprised of dialogue. This can be fan fiction or original fiction. This is just a scene, not an entire story, so shoot for about 250-500 words. Or more — the number of words isn’t as important as making your dialogue the best it can be.
Use minimal dialogue tags. Whoever is speaking should be clear from what they say and how they say it.
Use your dialogue to provide background information and expose at least one trait about each of your two characters.
Some ideas for a conflict, or come up with your own:
- A teen caught stealing
- A teen learning that his father is not his biological father
- A teen finding out that she has two months to live
— exercise taken from Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing for Young Adults, pg 154
Submitting Your Story
There are a few options for submitting your story:
- Post it on a website such as fanfiction.net, LiveJournal, your blog, etc. Be sure whatever site you choose does not require users to login in order to read your story.
- Email the link to your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you don’t want to post your story on a website, you can email it email@example.com. Please use DOC or PDF format only. If you wish to remain anonymous, please let me know when you send it (and don’t include your name in the file).
- Stories are due by 11:59PM PST on May 14.