How, when, and how much to have your characters dialogue are questions with which many writers may struggle. I once received one rubric that said I should have put a certain section in dialogue. My innate sense of story flow said narrative was needed. After all, hadn’t I been writing since second grade when the ball and the fan ran away together?
So that you won’t lose sleep tonight, I’ll skip to the end of the story: The toy friends escaped capture when the ball hitched a ride atop the fan and they flowed down the river to freedom. As author and illustrator of that little gem, I must say I was quite proud to have it as lead story in my red construction-paper-covered anthology with the shiny brass fasteners. The Ball and the Fan and other Short Stories, like an illuminated Bible crafted by monks, was a treasured original.
Somehow it was lost between second grade and the many moves and changes life brings. But I imagine it went something like: Lets run away said the fan. But i’m afraid said the ball. No no said the fan. i’ll help you. OK said the ball. If your dialogue looks a bit like that, you are in serious need of advice. Unless you’re in second grade. In which case, “Way to go, kid!”
Facing that rubric with none of my second-grade chutzpah, I thought, Whoa, these are judges! They must know everything, even if they don’t agree on much. So I rewrote the suggested passage in dialogue. Big mistake.
From the critique group, catcalls flew like startled bats from a cave. Neither did it ‘fly’ as internal dialogue. Yawns and sighs dominated as the patient group waited for me to, Hansel-and-Gretel-like, follow the white pebbles of instinct back to narrative for that section. Success. Everyone lived happily ever after, the way most of my childhood stories ended.
The feel for when dialogue advances the plot and gives us a better picture of the character who is speaking, rather than being witty or idle banter, comes with practice. So does the point at which to summarize what occurs during, or following, important dialogue between characters.