What Is Dialogue?
Dialogue is a narrative technique in which the author has two or more characters convey important information to the reader by speaking directly to one another. Drama is composed almost entirely of dialogue; narrative prose works, like novels and short stories, contain dialogue interspersed with narrative descriptions and commentary.
Dialogue serves several purposes in fiction:
- Dialogue can convey important information that a first-person narrator might either not be unaware of or unwilling to share with the reader. If the narrator is a child, for instance, he may not understand the significance of an event that he overhears two other characters discussing. The reader, on the other hand, is able to piece that information into the larger plot of the story.
- Dialogue may reveal expository information — i.e., events that happened before the beginning of the story.
- Dialogue is an important part of characterization. Characters who speak in dialect may belong to a lower or higher social class. Likewise, some characters use flowery language, while others speak in direct terms and as little as possible. These cues immediate help the reader to distinguish one character from another.
How Do You Identify Dialogue in Writing?
In most prose narrative, dialogue is set off with quotation marks. In drama, there are several forms of spoken address; dialogue, the open address between two or more characters, is the most common. Characters may also address the stage at large in what is called a monologue. Other times, they speak knowingly to the audience in an aside. Yet another form of address is a soliloquy, when an actor speaks his inner thoughts out loud with no other character around to listen.
Examples of Dialogue
Dialogue Example 1. Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” takes place almost entirely in dialogue. Although the incident that causes conflict between the two characters is never directly mentioned, the reader is able to use clues in the dialogue to figure out what is happening.
Dialogue Example 2. In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the Grandmother uses clichés and conventional wisdom to talk to people; her dialogue reveals that she is both manipulative and shallow. The Misfit, a mass murderer who kills her at the end of the story, is more plain-spoken. He delivers the moral of the story at the end in dialogue when he says, “She would have been a good woman if there had been someone around to shoot her every minute of her life.”
Dialogue Example 3. Witty comebacks and double-entendre are the staples of dialogue in situation comedies such as Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother.
Dialogue Example 4. Are a ventriloquist and her dummy holding a dialogue, or is a grown woman simply sitting with a big doll on her lap, talking to herself?
Dialogue Example 5. In the film Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart delivers one of the most famous lines of cinematic dialogue when he says to Ingrid Bergman, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
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