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Tutorial: Dialogue in the Story

Joyette taught English & Literature at high school for many years. Her writing and education articles come from her classroom experience.

Let Your Characters Speak to One Another


Dialogue Enhances the Story

Dialogue can be a very effective tool in story writing; it can be used to break the monotony of continuous narrative and to lighten the tone of the story. Moreover, it is an important element of characterization and setting.

Dialogue need not be complicated and it need not involve a large number of speakers. In fact, a conversation between two people is just as effective in achieving a desired effect as is dialogue involving many speakers. Dialogue allows the reader to get the characters’ immediate reactions or responses to other characters and to different situations in the story. Importantly, it allows characters to respond to one another verbally as well as in manner and attitude and this is, in itself, a powerful characterization tool.

Dialect is a Vital Element of Dialogue

Dialect is an integral aspect of dialogue; it localizes the speakers/story and adds a distinct flavor which enhances the overall interest of the story. Dialect is a most effective means of capturing a speaker’s background. Generally, in conversation, people use the language with which they are most comfortable. This is usually the dialect of their hometown (region) and it is that which will give listeners an insight into their place of origin, social status and sometimes even their level of education.

Use of Dialogue in Characterization

It is a fact that character is as much defined by the speakers’ words as by their actions. Dialogue not only gives the reader the speakers’ direct words, but also conveys the tone in which they utter them. This combination of words and tone speak powerfully of the speakers’ personalities. This is accomplished in fewer words than when using description.

An extended dialogue will lend deeper insight into other aspects of the characters’ personalities such as their political leanings, religious beliefs and other personal preferences and inclinations. At the same time it will indicate specific aspects of personality, for example whether the character is calm, frivolous, confrontational, self assured, vulgar reserved etc.

Use of Dialogue in Setting

Since dialogue allows speakers to speak naturally and in the dialect with which they are most familiar or which they find most comfortable, it has the advantage of locating a speaker in a particular region, country or community. For example, the reader would be able to identify a speaker as being American, West Indian, African etc. It could be even more specific to indicate details such as which country in a specific region the speaker comes from. For instance, if the speaker is from the Caribbean, his dialect might indicate that he is Jamaican, Trinidadian, St Lucian or other. Beyond this dialect could also indicate what district or parish of a specific country the speaker comes from.

Dialect further places characters within a particular time/era. The expressions/slangs which are used by a person is indicative of the era to which he/she belongs as each era, each generation comes with its own new expressions.

In my home country, Dominica, a French based Creole is used alongside Standard English and the English based Creole. The older generation, many of whom have died, spoke almost exclusively in the French Creole. Today, most of the older folk have excellent command of the French Creole though they may not necessarily be active users of it. Among the youth, however, acquisition has been slow in certain areas hence, there exists a quaint admixture of the English based Creole and the French based Creole in informal conversation.

When we travel therefore, we are easily alerted to the likely presence of a compatriot simply by hearing the French Creole. Likewise, the use of the English based Creole blended with French Creole expressions indicates further that the users belong to the younger generation.

Example of Dialogue in the Story

Below is an extract which illustrates the effective use of dialect in dialogue:

From the story ‘Struggling Youth’ in the book 'Four Strong Women' by Joyette H Fabien:

“Good morning,” Ms. Loriel, the Director greeted pleasantly.

“Morning!” the young woman answered sitting bolt upright in the plush armchair.

“Well, you and Ms. Anselm know each other. The reason I called you here this morning…”

“Know each other? She not my frien nuh!” the young woman interrupted briskly. “I doe come here for frien anyway.”

“I was just saying,” continued the Director, “that the purpose of this meeting is to try to clear up what seems to be a misunderstanding between Ms. Anselm and you. I hope this can be done amicably and quickly.”

“Quickly? All you never have time for poor people. If is a gwan jan (high class person) all you would take all you precious time,” the young woman stated, her lips pouted in displeasure.

“Ms. Loriel, we will take as much time as is necessary to sort this matter out. However, I see this as a simple misunderstanding and so I hope it won’t take us the entire day,” the Director replied mildly.

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“Simple misunderstanding!" The young woman snorted. "You see the woman sit down there like butter doesn’t melt in her mouth (pretending to be innocent). Anban fey she anban fey like that (this just shows how cunning she is)! She playing quiet, but is she that calling police to take my chile (child)from me. She in complot (in cahoots) with my chile father to take my chile from me and she saying is for the chile own good!”

“Ms. Loriel, I have the Welfare Report right here before me and it appears that Ms. Anselm is justified in recommending that the child be taken into protective care until you are better able to look after her.”

“I know that! I know you would take her side! What I waste my time and come here for?” The young woman exclaimed jumping up from her seat. It haven’t got justice for poor malaway (there is no justice for the unfortunate). I didn’t expect anything better. All you just wasting my precious time! You self, Ms. Anselm or what your bleddy (bloody) name is,” she shrieked pointing a finger at the young welfare officer. “I will do for you. Your viay biten sal (I will get you, you dirty thing)!” As she stood shouting, the alcohol from her breath was enough to intoxicate the other two women in the room.

“Are you threatening me, Ma’am? If you are I will not hesitate to go to the police!” Ms. Anselm spoke for the first time. Her expression was impassive and her voice calm. She was looking directly into the eyes of the other young woman.

“Go nuh! All of them not your man nuh? Go and send them to arrest me after you already make them take my chile! Is all people like all you worth! Sackway compawazon chien (You haughty dogs)!” she spat out viciously.

“Calm down, Ms. Loriel!” The Director’s spoke with authority. Her face had taken on a stern expression. “Please take your seat and let us conduct this meeting in…”

“I am your damn chile then? Who de hell you think you talking to woman, for you to tell me ‘calm down take your seat’?”

With that she opened the door and slammed it resoundingly behind her as she stormed through the outer office uttering invectives as she went.

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© 2012 Joyette Helen Fabien


Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on September 07, 2014:

Thanks for reading my hubs! I will certainly visit your page!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 07, 2014:

Helpful and interesting on a unique topic.

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on May 31, 2014:

All the best with this project, bravewarrior. I am fine tuning a collection of short stories myself. Hope to get it out soon.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 30, 2014:

Joyette, I'm currently working on a novel called The Gift of Faith. I'm testing out each chapter with my readers here on HP. The setting is in Georgia. In chapter 8 the lead character's father comes to dinner. He has a very strong southern drawl. I did my best to relay that in the many conversations he had with Faith (lead) and her best friend, Sarah. It took some concentration so I could get it right without it being hard to read. Coming from a family who has a slight southern drawl, I had the bones of his dialect in my mind.

It was fun, but a lot of work! I don't know how often I'll have "Daddy" speak in the novel, as he's not a key player - yet. I'll know better as the story progresses.

Nevertheless, dialects bring life to your characters. A novel is nothing if you can't relate to and love (or hate) the characters.

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on April 04, 2014:

Thanks for reading me, stuff4kids.

Amanda Littlejohn on April 04, 2014:

Nice work and some very good points about the use of dialogue.

I often find in books that I have enjoyed that the author has relied heavily on dialogue to communicate not only the character's personalities and motives but also the setting, action and plot, too.

Thanks for sharing! :)

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on November 04, 2012:

Great! I am glad you found it useful, Abubakar Abdu Hassan. All the best with your assignment

Abubakar Abdu Hassan on November 04, 2012:

Thanks for these great dialogue, i found it as a hint/guidelines to start writing my own Dialogue Assignment...

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on October 02, 2012:

reynan binyan, thanks very much for stopping by and reading my hub (:

reynan binyan on October 01, 2012:

joyette you're good writer

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on September 28, 2012:

Thank you for reading, TeachableMoments. I am happy that you found it useful. Good luck with your writing!

TeachableMoments from California on September 28, 2012:

Joyette, you are a great writer! Thank you for writing such a useful hub. I find myself struggling whenever I even think about using dialogue in my writing. Voted up, extremely useful.

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on May 29, 2012:

Thank you for reading, Willstarr, writer cove and slighterman.

slighterman, I understand. If the dialect is unfamiliar it will be difficult to follow. The writer needs to determine his readership, then use the dialect accordingly.

slighterman from Belgium on May 29, 2012:

Thanks for the tips.

While you are right, and dialogue is a good way to show dialects, sometimes I find hard to understand and tireing to read if the dialect is heavily used.

writer cove on May 28, 2012:

good tips here.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on May 28, 2012:

Excellent points. I love using dialouge!

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