WHAT DIALOGUE CAN DO
Look at this section of dialogue from Brian Jacques’ The Legend of Luke,part of the Redwallanimal fantasy series. How many characters are speaking? What can you learn about them and the plot? I’ve removed the tags and numbered the lines for reference.
- “Et be a gurt pity, ‘cos we’m be orfully near ee seashores. Oi cudd feel et in moi diggen claws.”
- “But we can’t go any farther now.”
- “…Cheer up, pretty one, or you’ll have it rainin’. Leave it to me, I’ve got a plan!”
- “You’m got ee plan, zurr?
- “Why d’ye think they call me Prince of Mousethieves? Of course, I’ve got a plan, you ole tunnel-grubber!”
- “I hope ’tis a plan that’ll work, matey?”
- “Oh indeed, an’ did you ever know any o’ my plans that didn’t work, O swinger of swords?”
- “Aye, lots of them, O pincher of pies!”
- “Well, this won’t be one of that sort, O noble whiskers!”
- “It had better not be, O pot-bellied soup-swigger. Now tell on.”
Dialogue has two purposes: to advance the plot and show characterization. The above passage does both. How many characters did you count? There are four. Dinny speaks lines 1 and 4; Trimp, 2; Gonff, 3, 5, 7, and 9; and Martin, 6, 8, and 10.
What did you learn about the characters? Dinny seems a little slow by the speech pattern and is equipped for digging tunnels. (He’s a mole.) Trimp is beautiful. Gonff is an overconfident, plump mouse who steals pies. Martin knows how to use a sword and has whiskers. (He’s also a mouse). Martin and Gonff are good friends.
What’s going on? The characters are going to the seashore, but something has prevented them from continuing their journey which requires a plan to overcome. (They must travel through a wood filled with savage killers.) Do they make it? You’ll have to read the book.
Here’s an exercise for you. Look at the dialogue passages in your favorite novels, block out the tag lines, and see what you can learn from them.