Monday, March 13, 2017

The Art of Dialogue: Set the Tone

A popular post from July 2013

By Julie Wright
part two of four

It's time for the second tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number Two:

Set the Tone
If it’s funny, or serious, or scary—you’ll know by the dialogue. Setting sets the tone, too, and is  completely important in writing, but a setting can’t exactly explain the tone of the book because the same setting can have multiple purposes.
So let's say our characters are at a funeral home. It’s just two of them, because no one else has arrived, or maybe no one else is coming. They're standing at the casket looking at the solemn repose of the deceased. That’s the setting.
But what will set the tone is the conversation—or lack of conversation—the two characters will have.
Maybe they’re brothers and it’s their father’s funeral. Maybe they hate each other because Dad loved one over the other. The setting says sad funeral, but the tone might be an angry war between brothers.
Or it could be two teenagers at the funeral of the science teacher who left them a clue to his murder. So they’re there to figure out who the murderer is. Their conversation and tone will be one of tension, intrigue, and anticipation. The tone is a who-dunnit.
Or it could be a couple of friends at the funeral of a roommate who was totally insane, and they’re there joking around about who gets his room and his Fender guitar. The tone would be a dark comedy.

Or maybe the characters are talking about cutting off the dead guy's head. Kind of weird, but hey, it happens. An ounce of preventuion and all that . . . As they cast a casual glance over their shoulders to see if anyone else is watching them cut off the head, the newly deceased's eyes pop open. Seeing that no one else is present, they move to the gruesome task of staking the undead at the same time the undead is working on making a snack of the two of them.  (I hate it when I wake up hungry). That tone of that scene would be horror/action.
The same setting can produce lots of different tones depending on what the characters say when they open their mouths.
Setting the tone means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said last week, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone

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