Have you ever turned the page of a novel and come to long paragraphs of description or exposition? And then the corner of your eye sees far down the next page a section of dialog? What do you do? Do you read the long paragraphs or do you jump to the dialog with its short sentences and friendly white space?
If you are like most people, you beeline to the dialog.
Dialog makes writing sparkle. Once I read a novel in which there was no dialog, none whatsoever. Over and over I wanted to quit. This novel taught me the power of dialog in writing.
Children read chapter books like Junie B. Jones that are full of dialog, but children rarely think of adding dialog themselves. However, once they add dialog they keep adding it, and their writing improves tremendously.
Why? One of the easiest ways to get personality into writing is to introduce a character—even if it is the writer herself—whose unique way of thinking and saying attracts readers. Charles Dickens was a master of this. But so are some of my students.
Adding dialog is like adding powerful verbs. It has the same effect.
Sometimes when I read a student’s writing, I suggest, “This would be a good place for dialog.” Often the student has people talking anyway, but using indirect speech. I show the student how to turn the speech into direct quotes, and how to start a new paragraph when a different person speaks.
Dialog can also be a great hook in the introduction of an essay, providing that the person speaking says something worth hearing.
One caveat: Sometimes, once students learn the power of dialog, they want to write only dialog, leaving out any sense of setting or nonverbal action. In these cases the writing is confusing. Help the student to see that some description of place, time and the emotional reactions of the people talking and listening are important for a well-rounded essay.
Next we’ll look at sentence types and how they impact writing.