Too often, dialogue follows a straight, predictable path when it should veer off into the unexpected. In real life conversations, people often talk past one another. Putting this fact to work in your dialogue can enhance credibility and/or tension.
Imagine a writer creating dialogue between a therapist and a patient who’d tried to kill his own mother:
The therapist says, “Your mother was cited seventeen times for neglect and abuse. Do you hate her?”
The patient balls one hand into a fist. “My mother might not be perfect, but she’s a goddamn saint. Don’t you forget that.”
Instead of answering the therapist’s question directly, the patient reacts not to the question itself, but to what he perceives as the therapist impugning his mother’s integrity.
Another way one character responding to another rings true is when there’s apparent misunderstanding, which may or may not be deliberate. In this example, a couple has just finished setting up the crib and other furniture for the baby they’re expecting:
Eve imagines what it will be like to watch their baby sleeping on his back, his little chest rising and falling with each breath. She takes Adam’s hand. “It seems almost too good to be true.”
He gives her hand a squeeze. “I know. To think we got all this for under two hundred dollars.”
Here’s another example, this one from an oft-cited scene in Anne Tyler’s novel The Accidental Tourist. Sarah and Macon are grieving parents whose relationship disintegrates as they drive in the rain:
There was a moment of watery blindness till the truck had dropped behind. Sarah gripped the dashboard with one hand.
“I don’t know how you can see to drive,” she said.
“Maybe you should put on your glasses.”
“Putting on my glasses would help you to see?”
“Not me; you,” Macon said. “You’re focused on the windshield instead of the road.”
Your thoughts? Examples of dialogue? Leave a comment.
A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That is why there are so few good conversations; due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.