Dialogue That Multitasks

While at the library last night, I glanced at a copy of the July 2012 issue of The Writer and a quote from ZZ Packer on the cover caught my eye. It was about dialogue and prompted me to open to the article and read the interview. I thought I’d share what she said about dialogue, because I found it incredibly useful. The interviewer, Gabriel Packard, asked Packer: “Something many critics have admired is the way your dialogue vividly evokes character. How do you go about crafting dialogue to make it so effective?
Packer says:

One thing I do is I try to hear in my mind what people would say. But then I also remember something Francine Prose said that stuck with me, and it’s that a line of dialogue cannot just be doing one thing. It must be doing several things at once. It has to be characterizing, it has to be atmospheric, it has to be informative and provide exposition.

… If it’s purely exposition, it’s going to come across as blank and textureless.

… If it’s just doing one thing, then I know I have to rework it. It has to be hitting six or seven different things. And then to me, it feels as though it is earned.

Six or seven things. Now that is serious multitasking. I don’t think my dialogue is working that hard for me. Is yours working that hard for you?

Credit: frankblacknoir / Flickr Creative Commons

6 Comments on “Dialogue That Multitasks”

  1. Wow – that’s something to keep in mind! I may need to go back and read dialogue from successful stories to see how to pack that much into just a sentence or two. Interesting advice!

  2. Really something to keep in mind – I am going to go look at my dialogue again. Multitasking! I must make it work harder πŸ˜‰ Great tip.

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