Of all the tools of the writer, none is so important as dialogue. Dialogue, which is a written composition in which two or more characters are represented as speaking, is the most essential aspect of any good tale, whether a play, a novel, a short story, etc. The primary purpose of dialogue is to humanize your story. Good creative writing – despite the genre – is a reflection of the world in which we live, and it tells us something about who we are; and real people have conversations. Discussions allow us to sympathize, empathize, or despise the characters in the story; this is how we discover the personalities and humanity of the protagonist. Imagine The Hobbit without Gandalf and Bilbo exchanging “good mornings” at the beginning of the book. We are immediately confronted with the reality and humanity of these fictitious characters. But dialogue also serves more concrete purposes.
It helps move the story forward without being dry and boring. There are only so many ways to describe travelling along a road, or driving down a highway, or walking down a sidewalk. All of these are necessary parts of a story: the characters (for the most part) don’t stay in the same room. And it really isn’t enjoyable to read about every single detail of a horse which is galloping down a dusty dirt road. So, we put in dialogue. A well-written, natural conversation between two or more people in the story not only attracts the interest of the reader, but it allows us writers to fill in time between point A and point B without giving away a sense of falsity or hurriedness. By the time the conversation ends, we’ve arrived at our destination and the story moves forward.
Dialogue can also bring forward themes and ideas which you want to relate without explicitly stating them. This is probably my favorite use of dialogue. Let’s say you want to talk about the meaning of life within your tale. The best way of doing so – without writing a creative essay – is to have your characters discuss some sort of problem or scenario. Take the personalities of these fictitious people and use them for your purposes. The key is to make it natural. This is where talking to yourself can be a good thing. At least, that’s how I write natural conversations. One person starts off the discussion, and you just hold a conversation with yourself, basically. And then read it over, out loud if you need. If part of it feels forced or unreal, scratch it out and fix it.
Dialogue can also enable you to foreshadow, create extended metaphors, advance important plot points, and explore humanity (as above). You really cannot have a good story without this crucial device; and it seems too obvious to need stating. I mean, just imagine your favorite book without any conversations. Boring and dull. But it’s a tool that takes time to develop. You can’t expect to master good dialogue writing overnight. It’s like learning to talk, literally.