A Common Pitfall: Expository Dialogue
by Laura Backes,
Write4Kids.com—The Children's Writing SuperSite
Dialogue adds to the narrative by allowing your characters
to speak for themselves. It's not simply narrative surrounded by quotation
marks. I've read manuscripts where the main character says something like:
"I don't know where I am. I've never been in this part of
the city before. I think I'll walk down the street and turn left at this
corner. Maybe I'll see someone who I can ask for directions. It sure is cold
When the character is explaining his
actions to the reader, the dialogue is not adding to the story. Dialogue
should hint at events in the plot by showing your character's reaction to his
situation. It also encompasses broad strokes of action. Any small details
necessary to the story can be shown through brief narrative passages. If you were this character, what
would you say out loud, what would you think, and what would you simply do?
Here's how the above example could be rewritten:
Josh looked at the unfamiliar buildings and finally admitted
that he was lost. "Where are all the people?" he asked himself. "Maybe
find someone around the corner who can tell me how to get home." He blew on
his hands, trying to warm them. "Mom told me to bring my coat," he thought. "I
hate it when she's right."
By showing your character's reaction to
his situation, you give details to the reader about who this character is. You
can also provide information about other characters in your story through the
main character's speech, as Lois Lowry does in
Anastasia on Her Own:
(Anastasia) dropped her schoolbooks on the kitchen table with
a thump. "What's for dinner?" she asked her mother. "Why are you just standing
there with that sort of frown on your face? And your lips are green. Why are
your lips green?"
Because Anastasia doesn't miss a beat before asking her
mother about her green lips, the reader gets the impression that this is not
an unusual event in the Krupnik household.
When writing for young children, it's especially important
that the dialogue be very active, constantly moving the story forward.
Consider this example from "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss. The cat has just
walked in and asked the children why they are sitting around on a rainy day.
"I know some good games we could play,"
said the cat. "I
know some new tricks," said the Cat in the Hat. "A lot of good tricks. I will
show them to you. Your mother Will not mind at all if I do, "
In this brief passage we learn a bit about the cat's
personality, what he has planned for the afternoon and how he feels about
parental rules, all without a drop of narrative.
About the Author:
Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for
Children's Writers, and co-founder of the
Children's Authors Bootcamp seminars. For more information about writing children's
books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more,
visit Children's Book Insider's home on the Web at
Copyright 2001, Children's Book