So far I’ve talked about using dialect and using specific words to help improve dialogue in writing. Today, let’s take a look at how you can control the pacing of your story by changing the tempo of your dialogue.
You’ve no doubt encountered this technique time and again as you read, but it may have been so subtle that you didn’t realize what was happening. I encourage you to pay attention to the way dialogue can affect a story’s pacing from now on so you can learn to use it yourself.
Just like you can speed up the pace of your narratives by using shorter sentences, quick-flowing words, and strong verbs instead of adjectives; or slow down the pace by adding more description and longer sentences, you can do the same with dialogue. Think about that last mystery or suspense novel you read. When the author wanted to pull you to the edge of your seat and get your heart racing, what kind of words and sentences were employed? If there was dialogue, what form did it take?
If you’re writing a scene that is showing conflict between characters or if you need them to have a sense of urgency, you don’t want to drag out their dialogue with unnecessary words and elaborate sentences. Every word should be important and should immediately get to the point. Often with fast-paced dialogue, you will also omit the speaking tags (“he said,” “she exclaimed,” etc.) because that only adds to slowing down the pace for the reader. Once you’ve identified in what order the characters are speaking, you can lose the tags and allow the characters to answer each other as quickly as possible. To help speed up the pace, shorten your sentences to the bare minimum needed for clarity, and be sure your characters don’t get hung up with stammering speech or “filler” words. Think of their dialogue as a tennis match with a fast-paced volley!
Likewise, if you are trying to introduce characters or set a scene, or just slow down your story’s pace for whatever reason, you can adjust your dialogue accordingly to achieve this effect. Now, your sentences can be longer and more embellished, and your characters can have their share of “ums” and “ers” here and there. And, add your tags back in so the conversation isn’t as rushed.
As a writer you are in complete control of how fast or slow your story flows. If you don’t like the pace–maybe you feel a certain scene is really dragging its heels–change it through dialogue. Sometimes even just the presence of dialogue can serve to speed up or slow down a story. Dialogue may not always be the answer, but it’s definitely an area that should be considered when trying to “fix” scene problems.
I hope that some of my suggestions throughout this three-part post have helped a little in your dialogue creation!