Dialogue should do more than present TALKING HEADS. Dialogue that is rich and integral to a story does several things…
--It can reveal character and motivation. We don't learn about characters simply by what they do, or the exposition that is written; we can learn about them through what they say, too.
--It can establish the tone or mood. If you're writing a comedic piece, at least one of your characters is probably a wise-ass, joke-cracking person, always with the witty comeback.
--It can foreshadow. Have you ever read a book and after reading a conversation think, "Oh no, something's about to happen?" That's the writer's ability to integrate foreshadowing into dialogue.
--It can provide exposition and backstory...and you want to use this judiciously. Nothing will bore a reader faster than you using dialogue to tell your main character's entire life story. That being said, dialogue is a tool in which you can "quickly" give some additional information, such as backstory so that you won’t end up with long, tedious passages of exposition.
--It can develop a conflict and move a plot forward.
Another thing that dialogue can do is create a great hook, and there are some writers who try to create that hook by starting a novel or starting chapters with dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but a writer must make sure that that piece of dialogue used is stellar, that it provides enough context to intrigue the reader and make him/her want to continue forward.
I recently edited a manuscript in which the first two pages of the story contained nothing but dialogue with few taglines. As a reader, I had no idea where the characters were, I didn’t know the characters (thus, I couldn’t care for them and their predicament), and I didn’t know what the characters were doing. A reader should always know these things when reading a book.
Keep coming back…a few more parts to this talk on dialogue!
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at The World According to ChickLitGurrl.