Anatomy of a Scene


One of the easiest and most difficult aspects of creating a work of fiction is writing dialogue. Dialogue can be subtle, memorable, dramatic, and forceful, and is one of the most versatile craft elements. But if not done well it can be stiff, stilted, and cheesy.

Note that dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters. Monologue is a long speech by a single actor (in a play or movie), and internal monologue is the inner voice or thoughts of a character. Most fiction uses dialogue and internal monologue, but not monologue.

You can use dialogue to pick up the pace of a dull scene, or when you want to move toward action. Dialogue is also great for creating conflict because you can pit one character against another. Well-crafted dialogue is a scene stealer.

Bad dialogue is a scene killer.

Don’t use dialogue as space filler. Don’t make your characters speak to take up space because you don’t know what is happening in your scene. If you do this your dialogue will come off as stiff, stilted, and cheesy.

Dialogue in a scene can do a few things:

  • Convey action
  • Reveal character
  • Reveal plot
  • Reveal backstory

You can use dialogue to open a scene, but if you start your scene in the middle of the conversation be sure to write it so that your reader isn’t confused having missed the earlier conversation.

  • Be sure to set your scene so your reader knows what is happening before the conversation starts
  • Be clear on who is speaking to whom so as not to confuse your reader
  • Mix action with dialogue so that you don’t have talking heads
  • Use conflict or opposition in your dialogue so that the conversation is dynamic

When you use dialogue be sure that the conversation happening on the page is important and moves the story forward. Your characters should be speaking for some purpose. Two characters chatting about the weather most likely won’t work for any foreseeable reason, and if you find your characters blathering on about unimportant things that have nothing to do with the story, save them from themselves and delete the conversation. All of it. It’s boring and pointless.

And you know I don’t want your writing to be boring and pointless.

Next time more on dialogue in scenes.

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