Emily's Foundation, Week Three: Dialogue in Mystery Writing
This week, the picture prompts focus 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). Clearly, the woman in the photo is very upset. Imagine that there's someone off-stage talking to her. What are they talking about? What is their relationship? Does the off-stage character know why the woman is upset, or did she just come upon her? Does the crying woman know the other person? Is the other person a doctor? A police officer? A private detective?
The challenge in front of you is that you're 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.
Remember, while there is a second character in this scene, unseen in this picture, you can only be inside the mind, body, and heart of your point of view character. The reader knows only what she is thinking. The other characters can speak and act, but you don't know what they are thinking or feeling. This is the essence of point of view, which is most powerfully expressed through dialogue.
A Stranger In The Alley: An archetypal image for a Mystery novel is a figure silhouetted in a dark alley. The dialogue for this scene should match the imagery. Clearly, your Point of View character is approaching this figure. The dialogue should be tense and fraught with the nuances of two individuals at odds with each other.
Now is not the time for eloquent prose. Is your character afraid of this person? Has she come with money to pay for information? Does she have a gun for protection? Ask yourself how the dialogue will deepen the mystery even as it reveals enough details for the scene to drive the plot forward.
Remember, it is the questions that your character wants to ask that are important, not an overly-embellished description of the surroundings.
Meeting An Informant: A meeting in a dive bar is always a great place for dialogue to flow between characters. What information is your point of view character looking for from his informant? There is no inherent sense of danger here, so the conversation is more of a cat-and-mouse game, with the informant trying to give up as little as possible.
Is your Point of View character an undercover cop? An FBI agent? A private detective? Does he know the informant? Is he paying him for information, or does he have leverage over him already?
The trick here is to let the dialogue reveal both the characters and the plot without simply telling a rote story-line. You may end up working on this scene a few times before the dialogue becomes natural. Don't worry about making it perfect; concentrate on making it interesting!
A Dark Warning: The dialogue in this picture prompt is clear; it's a warning from someone who represents dangerous antagonists. The warning to your character is most likely, Stay away!Drop the investigation! It's great fun to write dialogue with dark characters involved. You never know what it will bring out in your own character.
Does this menacing conversation bring out a dark side in your character that you never imagined was there? Does your character bring a gun to the meeting? Does she become the one who's making a threat?
Remember, these prompts are only a jumping off point, something to stir the pot of your imagination. Anything can happen!