Good Dialogue – The Author’s Goal

Readers choose books with lots of dialogue and not so much narrative, somehow feeling that dialogue makes a difference between a dull or great book. They don’t know how dialogue defines the characters, brings them to life and creates the tone of the story. Nor do they understand how the writer purposely used dialogue to evoke an emotional response in the reader.

In the following excerpt from my third cozy cat mystery, Black Cat and the Accidental Angel, Black Cat and Angel have just sent their first kitten to her new home. They discuss how they feel about the kitten leaving.

Mrs. Stubblefield’s car shot down the driveway, the lace-covered cat carrier shoved in the back seat and the cream-colored kitten cuddled in her lap.

Black Cat snuggled with Angel on the blanket with the remaining two kittens.

“I know she’s going to a good home but she’s so young, I’m a little sad to see her go.” Angel’s eyes sparkled. “I thought I’d have more time to get her on the right track.”

“I agree.” Black Cat patted her foot with his paw. “But, this is the way it’s meant to be. It’s our job to give them life, teach them right from wrong, make sure they pay attention to their ancestors’ wisdom, and kiss them good-bye. That’s what we do. You don’t have any regrets, do you?”

Angel sighed, her whiskers twitching. “I do regret that Mrs. Stubblefield named her Miss Bubblekins.”

Black Cat rolled over, four feet in the air. “And, I regret calling her cat carrier a gussied up French clown wagon with all that lace and red ribbons around the door.”

Angel glared at him. “You didn’t!”

“I did, but I have to admit, she looked kind of cute in the carrier.”

“She looked awfully little in there.”

Angel looked out the window into the empty yard where only moments before, Mrs. Stubblefield’s car had zoomed down the driveway, carrying her baby away forever.

Angel dragged the other kittens closer to her heart.

Are those tears in my Angel’s eyes? Cats aren’t supposed to cry. Or am I looking through my own tears. It’s hard to say.

What does this dialogue reveal?

One of Angel’s kittens has gone to her new home. As mothers, we can identify with the pain in Angel’s heart at the loss of her offspring, even when it’s a good thing. We see Black Cat’s efforts to empathize but justify the situation. (Isn’t that just like a man?). Then, he delivers a one-liner that hopefully, made you smile.

Even more than the narrative in a story, good dialogue creates drama, romance, angst, or humor. If you can put it all in one conversation, then good on you!

The reader doesn’t need to understand the motives behind the writer’s words or how much effort went into creating just the right effect. They just know that as they read and see the story unfold, they feel the character’s joy, their pain, or their sorrow as they become one with the characters.

The mark of a good book is when the reader turns the last page, she wishes there were another 100 pages. The mark of a GREAT book is when that same reader closes the book, she races to Amazon and orders another book by this same author.

Beyond a good plot, a charming setting or appealing characters, dialogue that sings is essential to creating this kind of response.


Elaine Faber has published four novels, various magazine articles and multiple anthology stories. Elaine lives in Elk Grove with her husband and three house cats. She volunteers  at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop.

2 Comments

  1. I read Elaine’s comments on dialogue with interest. Dialogue is to a story as a heart is to a living body. The enabling factor in any work of fiction is what the characters say to one another in response to whatever activity is happening. Descriptions of the environment in which your characters are existing is certainly important, but what good is a well described environment if you don’t know what the people in that environment are doing and how they are reacting to their circumstances. Provoking the correct emotions so the reader experiences them is a skill we all should constantly improve on. Even knowing when a lack of emotion is needed can create a tremendous response in a reader.
    Good words Elaine.

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