The Importance of Dialogue in Plot Development ~~ by Kate McGinn

The Importance of Dialogue in Plot Development ~~ by Kate McGinn

Dialogue — can you picture a story without it? Most stories have chapters or scenes without dialogue, and an example of a book without any dialogue from the main characters is the animal story, An Incredible Journey.

So, yes, it can be done and successfully, but dialogue plays an important role in a story. Humans communicate with more than dialogue. Their actions, tone of voice, what they say and how they say it as well as what they don’t say all communicate something about the message they want to convey or perhaps what they are reluctant to say.

One important role of dialogue in a story is that wherever it occurs it should move the story forward. The following excerpt is from my book, Winter’s Icy Caress, and I’ve used it to show an example of how dialogue moves a story forward.

“What are you reading?” Wyatt asked while surveying the contents of the refrigerator. He lifted the half gallon of milk in a mock toast before tipping it back for a drink. She knew he drank from the milk jug because it irritated her. One corner of her mouth turned up.

“There was another abduction. A Chippewa woman. Have you heard anything about this?” She scanned the article for more information.

“No. I don’t think Dave’s involved yet. The local authorities would still oversee the investigation until they decided to bring in the FBI. Do you know either of the women?”

Clare’s forehead furrowed, and she shook her head as she continued to read about the Wind disappearance. “The latest woman’s name is Sara Wind. I wonder if she’s related to Alana.” Wyatt looked over her shoulder at the newspaper photo.

“Not the best photo. I know Alana when I see her, but I’ve never talked to her. Maybe Loretta knows.” Wyatt grabbed a glass from the cupboard and poured the remaining milk into it before stealing a slice of peanut butter toast from Clare’s plate. She slapped his hand. He gave her a saucy grin before taking a big bite of toast.

“I think I’ll ask her when we have dinner tonight.”

In this example you meet two characters — Clare and Wyatt. The dialogue between them moves the reader further into the story as we learn about the disappearances of women in the Bayfield area. We are also introduced to other characters during their conversation: Dave – who is connected to the FBI, Sara Wind – the missing woman, and Loretta – the woman they will have dinner with that evening.

In a few sentences we find out Clare is concerned about the news, wants to know more information about the disappearances and plans on asking her friend that evening. The dialogue moves us into the next scene, but what isn’t said while they are conversing tells us another story about the couple and their relationship.

This next example from Empty Chairs, Empty Promises offers an example of how dialogue can define character. What the character says, the words they use, their tone reveals who they are as well as their relationship to the other character. Dialogue changes dynamics in the story by creating emotional responses to what is being said.

“Mom, I don’t understand you! You sell our family home and now you want to go alone to who knows where…” Carrie argues over the phone with me.

“Puerto Rico. That’s where I’m going,” I correct.

“What are you talking about? Traipsing off in some type of mid-life crisis, it’s ridiculous. I’m embarrassed one of my friends will find out how demented you are!” Carrie isn’t going to let up and frankly, I’m getting tired of the tirade.

“Young lady, I’m your mother, and I won’t have you talking to me like this. I’m not having a mid-life crisis. I’m taking a much-deserved vacation, and I plan on enjoying myself. I’ve got another thirty or forty years ahead of me. I need to decide what I would like to do with it.”

“Whatever. Have fun. Don’t worry about your children, we’ll be fine.” My daughter is filled with resentment and each word drips with venom.

“Carrie, you’re an adult. I’m not abandoning you. You and Nate are always in my thoughts. I’ll get in touch with you when I get there.”

“Well, don’t let it interfere with your fun. I need to go.” And then, she was gone. I sigh at the petulant tone in her voice and shake my head, wondering if I’d been as insufferable when I was her age. No, I had two children to care for when I was her age. I didn’t have time for drama.

In this conversation, you are introduced to Libby Crenshaw, the protagonist of the story and her daughter, Carrie. The conversation moves the story forward by revealing Libby’s plans, gives the reader a glimpse into Carrie’s personality and how she and her mother interact. Through Libby’s inner dialogue, we see that she has made up her mind and will not give in to her daughter’s demands.

Through this passage, the reader may begin to form a connection towards one or the other of the characters, choosing sides and bringing them into the story as they feel the tension build between the two women.

Dialogue serves many purposes within the story structure by providing realism, dramatic tension, and giving voice to the characters as it defines who they are.

It makes the story advance by helping to direct the course of the plot. Characters should experience some type of change after a scene containing dialogue. If it doesn’t cause change it isn’t required to tell the story. It is nothing more than filler and should be deleted.

Dialogue provides information as secrets are revealed and the histories of the characters are divulged. It serves to balance the elements of storytelling by breaking up action sequences and/or descriptive passages.

Keep it natural by giving characters different voices. Let them interrupt each other and give them and non-participants in the scene actions in the background to convey reactions to the conversations. Put them in a specific identifiable location and time during their conversation. Use misdirection, what is unsaid, what is ignored or implied to increase the tension in the scene. Use internal dialogue to communicate those things only the character knows.

Dialogue is a powerful tool for the writer, but it is only effective if it moves the action forward.

OMP Admin Note: Kate McGinn is a writer and OMP Network member – one of a group of networkers who will be blogging on a regular basis on various causes and issues. Kate hopes to spread awareness of the issue of American Veterans returning home to less help than they deserve. EMMAUS is one of the two main charities we are supporting.

Kate McGinn’s fiction can be found on Amazon in the flash fiction series BITE SIZE STORIES (Volume Two) along with five other guest writers, and in the One Million Project Fiction Anthology. Her Clare Thibodeaux Series which include the suspense books — EXODUS, WINTER’S ICY CARESS, and NEVER SHOW YOUR HAND are available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

Our short story anthologies written by over 100 writers have been recently published (links below) with all proceeds being donated to the charity organizations our group supports.

If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read the complete anthology for FREE, and KU proceeds are donated along with the proceeds from the sale of our anthologies.

Our volunteer authors love to see reviews, and every review helps to make the One Million Project’s books more visible to Amazon customers, assisting us in our mission to raise One Million Pounds / Dollars for EMMAUS Homeless Programs and Cancer Research UK.


The Cultural Bridge

The following  idea is developed after a lot of research and consultation with a lot of people. The idea written below is not solely a product of my imagination. I must agree, Sharon Rhoads has helped me change my views comepletely. With this, I extend my gratitude towards her and give her the credits she deserves.


Culture is the part and parcel of human society. It is a prism of realities. In simpler words, culture is just like our mother tongue. Just as we start learning our language even before we understand its importance and use, we start learning our culture way before we are even aware of what it is.

Culture seeps into us, through the bedtime stories that we read, or the music that we listen. It also gets into us subtly through the religious traditions, holidays, celebrations, and the works of literature and mythology.

Strangely enough, culture still remains one the most misunderstood concepts in the world of humanities.

People, since ages, have misunderstood the meaning of the term, ‘culture’. Culture is how you live and who you are, not where you live. For instance, fishermen have a “culture”. People who live in homeless camps and shelters have a “culture”. People who are very wealthy have a “culture”. The people of a certain culture will understand each other and the life they live, but outsiders will not. Every one of us has our own “culture” that has nothing to do with where we live and still everything to do with who we are.

Nations these days rarely contain a single “culture” within their borders. When we talk about “culture” we need to be clear about its meaning. When we use that word, we are not referring to different countries. We are, in fact, referring to the differences in how we see the world, how we see ourselves, how we see others and how we live our lives. Did you know that deaf people have a “culture”? Or for that matter, circus performers have a “culture”. Even the surfers have a “culture”. And all these “cultures” separate people from each other because they don’t understand the other “cultures” around them.

But ‘culture’ hasn’t always remained a favourable influence.

A lot of times, in fact, it has worked against us. It made us look down at others as ‘different’. It acted as a wall, more than the link it was supposed to be. It stood for ages, dividing us on the basis of our differences. These are quite evident from the outright wars that had been waged between the east and the west, the Arabs and the Non-Arabs, the blacks and the whites and so on.

The internet, television and movies today, show us all the other parts of the world. But, they seldom help us understand the people who have different “cultures”. How well do you understand the “culture” of the deaf? They have their own language and a set of social expectations.

These are the walls that need to be knocked down!

In order to further this, One Million Project, OMP came up with this idea; the idea of knocking down the Cultural Walls and converting them into Cultural Bridges. So here we are, starting another wonderful project where we would like to have writers, artists, musicians and others share something about their culture on this online platform. Let our audience know about a different culture every few days, not through the humdrum routine textbooks they’d pick up in their high schools or libraries, but through the real stories about the real human experience.

Because sometimes we need more than an anthropologist or a sociologist to teach us culture. We need each other!

Moinak Das
(with special thanks to Sharon Rhoads)

The Cultural Bridge

For more information on the project, please visit us on The Cultural Bridge and tell us how you feel about it. We are currently in our initiation stage. So if something doesn't work for you, don't hesitate to comment there. Thank you.


Finding Talents!

“Grandpa! Can I ask you something?” The boy asked as he rested his head on the old man’s lap.

“Umm-hmm. Go ahead, son.” The old man ruffled his hands through the boy’s dishevelled hair.

“Miss May was telling me that everyone has a special talent.”

“Yes, she was right!”

“But how do I find my talents. I have spent twenty-three years of my life. But still, I haven’t figured out the purpose of my existence and the value of my presence! Leave alone ‘talents’. Sometimes I feel, I am not talented at all.”

“Hahaha! Well, that is not true, child” Grandpa replied.

“Then how do I find my talents? Martha is an excellent singer. Toby plays wonderful football. Lira is good at drawing. Ron is good in studies. And I am good at nothing! For the past couple of years, I have only been failing. I have failed in my exams. I have failed to qualify for the school football team. I have failed to make my parents proud. I have failed at everything I have touched.” A drop of tear rolled down his eyes as his voice trembled.

“Trust me, son. You are talented indeed. If you ever have the feeling that you are not talented enough, it isn’t your fault, child. It is the system that is faulty. It is the world which lacks eyes to recognise your talent. You may, in fact, be possessing a rather unusual talent. The talents that your friends possess are actually common talents. Like being good at sports or studies or being good at a particular art. The talents that do not get recognised are patience, thoughtfulness, optimism, the desire to succeed or rebuttal to defeat, will power and so on. If you observe, these are the same set of skills that are otherwise ‘taught’ to some people through ‘self-help books’ or the ‘lifestyle coaches’, but then there are few people like you who possess these naturally. And the worst part is that these kinds of talents do not have a conventional stage for display. For Lira, the drawing paper is her stage for display. For Toby, the football ground is his stage for display. But for you, my son, there are no stages for display and hence medium of expression.”

“So will I never get to show my talent? Will no one ever know that I am talented?” The boy looked up, a little relaxed.

“Well, that is not true again. It may be that your innate talent may be situation specific. There are people who do not handle failure well; these days little kids are committing suicide over trivial issues. There are people who do not even know how to get back up after falling. But if you have that talent called ‘perseverance’ then you are one of those rare kids who knows how to get back up again even after falling a thousand times. Your talents actually help you to live your life. Just ask yourself this one question. ‘Would that seemingly talented Martha be able to live your life? Would that seemingly strong Toby be able to keep on facing failure like you?’ and I am sure; the answer would always be ‘NO’.”



The Anatomy of a Story

What keeps readers enthralled with a book?  The answer depends on what you believe drives the story, is it the plot or the characters?  Aristotle in his book, Poetics, stated that “tragedy is a representation not of men, but of action and life.”  And for hundreds of years, writers and books were focused on developing the plot instead of their characters.

In the 19th century, the modern novel was born, and the idea of a story being character-driven became a part of the literary discussion.  I believe a strong plot is necessary, but if your characters are one-dimensional, the plot won’t matter.  Readers will be distracted by a lackluster cast of characters.   Envision “A Streetcar Named Desire” with a monotone delivery of the play’s dialogue or an over-acted performance by an actor that defied reality.   The same can be said for the written dialogue in stories.  Dialogue should engage the reader by adding depth of character and by moving the plot forward.

I’m a nurse, so I think about story structure in anatomical terms.  The plot is the skeletal portion of the story.  Without the skeleton, the story won’t have the strength necessary to support itself.  The story will figuratively fall apart without the plot to frame it.

The book’s muscle is the figurative meat of the story.  Descriptive passages and facts bring form and substance to the written word.  Holding it all together are the tendons and ligaments whose job is to tie the plot points together in a cohesive story arc.

A story’s lifeblood is dependent on its characters.  The thrill of the chase and the Machiavellian twists and turns are the nervous system of the story.  The book wouldn’t have the excitement or spark needed to attract readers and keep them engaged without our characters’ deeds, their actions, and their electrifying influence which keep the pages turning.  Emotional passion is the blood of the story.  It can be the pounding heat in your veins or the chilled sensation running through your body during a horrific moment.

Through their deeds and dialogue, the people within the story drive its direction.  The characters are the emotions, the beating heart and the flesh of any plot.  Character development is necessary to transform the words on a page into a force with the power to entertain.

Authors are asked about their inspiration in creating a specific character.  Each writer has a process she uses in the fabrication of the individuals who populate her stories.  Some will write a character sketch detailing the personality, interests, employment, social background, and relationships of their main characters.  They delve into the character with such depth that they catalog their childhood, where and how they live, their looks and even the meaning of the character’s name.

Other writers refer to the notion of their characters ‘finding them’.   A scene playing in his head inspires the writer, needling him until he acts upon it.  The characters grow and evolve during the writing of the story determining the direction of the plot through the natural flow of conversation and events.   They essentially write their own story, and in the process, fashion their own destinies.

Whether an author carefully documents details about his characters or they are the result of whimsy, the author’s goal is to bring the reader into the ‘reality’ of her characters’ world.   It is pure magic when a reader becomes so absorbed in the plot and characters; she begins to identify with certain individuals within the story.

Internal and external dialogue are a tool used to reveal who the character is, what is in her heart and what weighs on her conscience.  I know I can name several protagonists I have admired and about as many antagonists I have disliked intensely.  Do you remember a story where you became annoyed with a decision a character made?  Have you ever had a ‘book boyfriend’?  I have.  Don’t judge me—what young woman doesn’t find Mr. Darcy or Heathcliff worthy of her notice?

If it is true there are only six to seven plot lines total in all the stories ever written, the differences between stories rely on the strength and uniqueness of the story’s characters.   As writers, we are assigned the task of writing a believable story whose characters react and speak naturally and realistically in the myriad of worlds we construct around them.  Our success will turn one of the six or seven repeated literary plots into a creative journey so compelling our readers will lose themselves within the pages.


OMP Admin Note: Kate McGinn is a writer and OMP Network member – one of a group of networkers who will be blogging on a regular basis on various causes and issues. Kate hopes to spread awareness of the issue of American Veterans returning home to less help than they deserve. EMMAUS is one of the two main charities we are supporting.

Kate McGinn’s fiction can be found on Amazon in the flash fiction series BITE SIZE STORIES (Volume Two) along with five other guest writers. Her full-length book EXODUS is also available on Amazon.