STORY IDEA: YOUR DOOR BELL RINGS AND ITS A PERSON FROM AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE “I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY FAVORITE BOOK CHARACTER AND I KNOW HOW IT ENDS AND I WANNA CHANGE IT”
WHY DID YOU DO THAT TO ME
Dialogue Should Move the Story Forward, Provide Information, or Enhance Characterization, Unless You’re Really Witty
The best dialogue can do all three. This is a rule that’s often broken by great writers, but before you can get away with breaking it, you have to understand why it exists. Recently, I reread one of my first stories. I thought it would be fun to reread, but I was disappointed in much of the dialogue. In the middle of a scene, my heroine Mildred and the housekeeper broke into an exchange about what my heroine wanted for dinner. I think they were the only two people in the world who cared about it. Readers never even got to see them eat this dinner, and the exchange had no point. It didn’t advance the plot, and it told us nothing about Mildred except that she hated sour beef and dumplings.
But let’s say you’re writing a romantic mystery where several people are poisoned by arsenic in the sour beef and dumplings. Suddenly that exchange becomes crucial because the reader knows Mildred was spared because she didn’t like the dish — does this mean the killer poisoned that dish because he didn’t want her to die? Or let’s say the point of the scene is that Mildred’s late father is a famous chef whose specialty was sour beef and dumplings, and Mildred confesses that no longer eats this dish because it brings back too many memories. Now the scene tells us something about Mildred’s personality, not just about her food intake. It wouldn’t take much work to use this exchange to move the plot forward while telling us something about Mildred and sharing the information about the food she likes.
Are you a witty author? Are you sure? If so, then you can get away with writing dialogue that doesn’t advance the plot, doesn’t tell us anything about the character, and doesn’t provide information to the reader. But even if you can get away with it, why should you do this? Even the most sparkling dialogue won’t help your story if it’s completely empty of anything but wit.