Emily's Foundation, Week Four: Dialogue in Historical Fiction
What's the situation here? What are they discussing? Although there's only one airman who's talking, the dialogue doesn't need to begin with him. All the men hold interest. Are you drawn to the smoker? Or the man with the goggles? Is he a pilot, and the one taking notes might be the navigator?
Once you've decided who the Point of View character is, then you can proceed with your scene. Clearly, something exciting and dangerous is about to happen! You'll deal with this element when you create the Setting, Mood, and Dramatic Tension for the scene.
Today, we’re focusing on Dialogue. What I find really interesting in teaching Dialogue is that virtually all my students find Dialogue comes naturally to them! Their problem typically is not that they are unable to write excellent dialogue, but rather, that they simply don’t write dialogue.
The tendency, even with many experienced writers, is to tell the story with description rather than to let their characters tell the story (through dialogue). So my advice for your work with this prompt is simple: Get inside whichever characters in the photo you think should be on stage during the scene… and when they’re ready, let them speak! You’ll be amazed at how easily the dialogue flows!
When your characters are ready to speak, bear in mind that your Point Of View character might not need to actually speak: His "speech" can be in the form of thoughts as well as spoken words. For instance, if your Point of View character is the pilot with the goggles, his inner-dialogue may be, "We might not make it back from this mission."
While the other characters may be providing all of the spoken dialogue in this scenario, the pilot's thoughts are quite possibly more effective in creating the Dramatic Tension of this scene than if he'd spoken them out loud.
You now have a difficult challenge in front of you: You are limited to just words in painting this scene, and this photograph is so evocative that creating a comparable scene with only words will test your mettle as a fiction writer. But I trust you're up to it by now!
If you decide to use one of these three pictures just above, instead of the photo at the top, follow the same process of creating Dialogue while using the other Ingredients of the scene that we've already worked with over the past three weeks:
Week 1: Point Of View
Week 2: Setting and Mood
Week 3: Dramatic Tension
Dialogue is the technique with which many of my students are the most at home. But they don't use it! Once they let their characters speak in a scene that already is rich with the other three Ingredients, I see it as putting the finishing touches to the scene. Now we have Dialogue, Point of View, Setting and Mood, and Dramatic Tension all working together.
So now the dialogue really reflects what’s going on between the characters, what the mood is, what just happened. Let the dialogue sparkle!
Once we’ve allowed the characters in the scene to speak, and successfully blended their dialogue with the other Ingredients of the Scene, we’re done! You'll have finished creating a memorable scene! (On to the next scene!)