The Power of Dialogue

Dialogue is one of the most powerful tools in writing. Even in poetry, dialogue is a force to be reckoned with. In several workshops I’ve been, whether something is literally spoken or thought makes a huge difference in the world of the poem. Consider for instance if Profrock were to actually speak to the women, how vastly would that change the poem?

Dialogue is something that I struggle with, but that I love working on. It’s always a joy getting to sit at my desk, looking like a crazy person as I read each character’s dialogue over and over in different voices to try to determine the proper voice.

Yes, my roommates probably do think I am totally crazy.

But, finding a natural, distinct voice for each character is a crucial step in giving your story/poem a sense of place, time and direction. Consider the differences between:

“You need to get in here before our meal gets cold.”

“Get your ass in here and eat ‘fore I throw it out!”

“Y’all better get on in here and eat up! It’s supper time!”


Those are three different people in three different places that set the tone for three different stories. That is what dialogue does! It’s a part of creating the setting, the tone, the everything.

Too many times characters have interchangeable dialogue. Billy says something but it doesn’t matter because it sounds just like something Scott or Amy would say. Now I’m not saying every single character has to have a catch phrase they say every time they speak. No, no, no.

What I mean is that the characters need to be distinctive enough so there isn’t a need for a dialogue tag after every statement. Let the characters speak for themselves.

So, here’s a challenge for you. Write a scene that is ONLY dialogue. You can use a few dialogue tags, but no action. Tell a story with only dialogue. Can you do it?


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