Creating Effective Dialog
Dialog is conversation on the printed page. We engage in conversation many times throughout a day; yet when we develop a story, the dialog is one of the most difficult elements to master. An important requirement in writing dialog is to intimately know and understand your characters – the antagonist, the protagonist, and all minor characters, no matter how unlikable they are. How do they think? What is their goals and motivation in each scene? What is their overall outlook on life?
All dialog needs to move the plot forward in some way or it is useless and detracts from the intent of the story. Dialog should provide new information to the characters, reveal new obstacles that the viewpoint character must overcome to achieve her goal, or remind the characters and readers of their goals plus accelerate the emotion, increase the suspense, and make the situation more urgent for the characters.
While good dialog is essential for a great story, it is only one leg of a three-legged stool. Dialog, narrative, and action must be balanced to create a three-dimensional feel for the reader. Certainly, there are scenes in all of our stories that work best with only narrative or only action or only dialog, but emphasis on the other elements of fiction in the following scenes will return balance to the story and engage the reader more effectively.
The most effective way to integrate setting into a story is to use all three of the fiction elements: dialog, action, and narrative. Weaving these elements together helps the setting form a background for the story and not over power the plot line. One important aspect to remember is that care needs to be taken not to use narrative to describe the setting when you can have a viewpoint character interacting with the setting in a lively discussion with another character.