Goldilocks and the Three Kinds of Dialogue
Dialogue in fiction is not simply people chatting away about their day. It’s supposed to do a lot of hard work: characterize the speaker, advance the plot, convey subtext. In a writing workshop that I’m taking this fall, the instructor, author Adam Stumacher, gave us some great advice about dialogue that I wanted to share here. It comes from Junot Diaz, Stumacher told us, and it has three parts. After you’ve written a section of dialogue, take a look at what you’ve written and
1. Eliminate all parts of the dialogue that refer directly to the action, especially any bits of conversation that are explaining the situation. This kind of dialogue is too big and should be handled in summary narration by the narrator.
2. Eliminate all parts of dialogue that’s totally unrelated or has the characters spinning their wheels. That kind of dialogue is too small.
3. Keep everything else. That, my friend, is subtext and it’s juuuust right.
If you don’t have anything left, go back and rewrite your dialogue. I love this advise and have been using it with some success. Let me know if it works for you.