Dialogue is only a piece of the story

What your character says and how they say it, tells your reader about who that character is. No wonder dialog is so important. Yet, dialog alone can be quite limiting. By using the scene, the actions of other characters, the characters own senses, or their thinking process we add more depth to the spoken words. We nudge the story down the path we want a reader to follow.

I am not going to eat that and you can never make me! From this one line you can make some assumptions about a character without knowing anything else. Number one, more than likely this is a child probably between three and five. (I picture them sticking their tongue out at the end.) Number two, they are testing their boundaries, what can they get away with? How much will my parent/guardian/teacher/babysitter allow me to express myself?

On the other hand if I said this statement came from the mouth of a thirty something male sitting at a table with a girl, it tells us a completely different story. Maybe this is the punch line to a joke or maybe he is telling her a story of a three year old he saw. In this case, without more, it is hard to define the significance of these words.

If I told you our character is a starving prisoner of war in a cell where an enemy has placed a plate of steaming delicious smelling food in front of them. It changes the story again. Now we have a man/woman who has decided that the enemy is not to be trusted. The character fears the food is either drugged or there is something else wrong with it. Or maybe to accept the food would be, in their mind, cooperation with the enemy. One might read a hint of the motivation of: if I do something nice for you, you should provide me with information. I might mention that in the latter situation, the guards probably could make the prisoner eat the food. The scene could play out as a way to prove the prisoner is powerless against his enemy who, for now, writes all the rules.

So, while words spewing from a characters mouth are important, you can see that context, the circumstances around the spoken words, play an important part too What and how much you tell the reader will define what is important.

Let us say in the case of the boy-girl, we add this to the dialogue: Face flushed red, the vein across his right temple throbbed, Fred balled his hands into fists† and he slammed them down on the table making the dishes and silverware bounce, overturning a glass of iced water. Sharon screamed and began to cry.

Here, Iíve added another dimension to our short little phrase of defiance.† What does this addition reveal about Freddie?† What does it say about the girl? ††

We can add yet another character and dimension: The mother walks into the room and says: Now Fredrick Bartholomew, you know that is not how we act in front of company. If you do not want to eat broccoli then do not. Now you apologize to Sharon for scaring her.

This final addition paints a completely different picture of our character and his companion. Are they mentally challenged? Having a play date?


Challenge 13

For this challenge, I want you to write three short scenes around the following line.

Thank you brother, for your courtesy.

You must use that line in each scene and no other dialog. ††In each scene Ė by use of context, character action, give these words completely different meanings from the other two scenes.The words should have meaning to the scene you create.