I was a little confused when I stumbled onto the debate about the use of dialogue in fiction. At first, I thought it was the method or amount of use, which is probably how it started. By the time I showed up to listen, the people were divided into two camps. One claiming that dialogue is an essential tool of storytelling and the other saying that it was an archaic trope that is no longer necessary. Well . . . I’m only going to touch on what I think about dialogue because I’m sure this differs depending on the person.
As I’ve stated many times over the years, I write in third person present tense. This means you’re reading stuff as it unfolds and it’s through a spectator perspective instead of a first person narrator. Because of this, I can’t really use flashbacks to cover explanations of places and events. It’s clunky and disjointed if I’m leaping through time periods when I write in this style. I can jump forward, but the past becomes the present if I go there and that gets confusing. This means I have fewer exposition tools for world-building and the dreaded info dump can look rather appealing. I used this when I started and tried to use flourishing language, which is what made me wordy in my writing. Unfortunately, I can still slide too far into the past by talking about the event in detail in a way that makes it sound like it’s happening now. What can I do?
Dialogue to the rescue!
As long as I have a character who would know the information I wish to share and another who is curious, I can build the past into my world. In Beginning of a Hero, it was Fritz Warrenberg who did this as well as Fizzle. Throughout the rest of the series, I had nearly every character step into the role of tour guide/teacher. It was all done through dialogue and having someone ask a question that a reader would have either at the time or down the road. Think of it as a preemptive Q&A. If I couldn’t have the characters converse then I wouldn’t be able to explain a lot of stuff. Another benefit here is that many of them were not that verbose, so the explanations went right to the point. It’s a much better route to take than the info dump, which can result in a lot of extraneous details that will turn a reader off.
Outside of the world-building, I find dialogue is where you can show more of the characters. They demonstrate how they feel by using various tags or adding body language to the conversation. You can keep the second part even if you get rid of dialogue, but it can miss the mark at times. I have seen people state that tags need to go because they’re too restrictive. While I can see that argument, I wouldn’t try it and think there is enough variety and nuance to keep them alive. Sure, ‘he said, she said, repeat’ is dull, but you still have claims, says, exclaims, yells, mentions, explains, shouts, moans, groans, mutters, whispers, etc. I see that as being more helpful in demonstrating a character’s emotions and development.
So, what does everyone else think about dialogue? Anybody agree that it needs to be retired?