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II. THE ELEMENTS
 

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3.Dialogue

 
(iii) QUESTIONS
 

Here’s a cheap trick. If your dialogue lies flat on the page and refuses to perk up, try turning statements into questions. For example:

A: ‘I wanted to see Mrs Hallam.’
B: ‘She’s not in. She’s gone to the supermarket.’
A: ‘I’ll go look for her there.’
B: ‘She’ll be back in half an hour.’
A: ‘Okay, I’ll wait for her here, then.’

—becomes—

A: ‘Is Mrs Hallam in?’
B: ‘No. You want her? She went to the supermarket.’
A: ‘Maybe I should go look for her there?’
B: ‘What’s the rush? She’ll be back in half an hour.’
A: ‘You think I should wait for her here?’
B: ‘Why not?’

That’s not the world’s most brilliant example, neither for flatness nor perking up. Still, there’s surely more back-and-forth bounce in the second version.

When we write prose, we write in statements—and the habit often sticks when we write dialogue. But listen to a real-life conversation, and it’s full of questions (along with interjections, commands, etc.) Even tag questions, as when we add ‘you know?’ at the end of a perfectly self-sufficient assertion—inviting a response, keeping the ball rolling. Increasing the number of questions doesn’t necessarily produce good dialogue, but it can be the first stage in overcoming the common disease of statement-itis.

OTHER DIALOGUE TOPICS

(i) VIRTUES OF DIALOGUE

(ii) THE SPIRIT OF INTERACTIVITY

(iv) SWAPPING CONTENT

(v) ADDING SPEAKERS

(v) WHO’S SPEAKING?

Other Elements Topics

1. Action

2. Setting   

4. Thinking Inside         

 

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