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Dialogue in Literature: It's not what you say, it's how you say it

Literary editorial
Literary editorial
Illustration courtesy of Evgeniya Ivanova Title/Font design created by B. L. Cassidy)

"To be, or not to be", in Shakespeare's drama, Hamlet, is one of the most memorable lines of dialogue, in Literature. The audience or reader allowed to know more of the character and story, through the favor of hearing or reading the dialogue. Great and noted works of Literature, consist of great dialogue. It moves and amplifies the story, in addition to the characters. Also establishing the audience or reader in the scene or moment with the characters.

Dialogue is described as what is spoken by characters in a literary work, story, play, etc. Also a conversation by two or more persons. The expounding of ideas or opinions on a specific question, dispute, issue, or outcome. Dialogue typically is positioned at the forefront in Literature, for writers, with regard to communicating about diverse situations, people, places, and the meaning associated with them.

He finally come into his manhood today, didn't he? Kinda like a rainbow after the rain..."

In the play, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, Lena "Mama" Younger speaks to daughter-in-law, Ruth Younger, of Walter Lee Younger, her son. Lena "Mama" Younger's voice distinctly different from the other characters, in this later scene, towards the end of the play. Her dialogue carries resolve and optimism in her son's decision, with regard to the family's future situation.

"In revision of dialogue, these questions are useful: Is dialogue logical? Does it fit character desire and motivation? Does it support theme and meaning? Does it move?", notes writer, William H. Coles, of

Now, don't worry," she tells me, "please try not to worry. Whatever is coming, we will manage it all very well, you will see. We have each other and we have our son and we know what we want."

Harriet, a secondary character in the short story, This Morning, This Evening, So Soon, by James Baldwin, states the above dialogue to the Narrator of the story. The Narrator, is her husband, and the main character. Her dialogue seeks to encourage and comfort him, with regards to their relocation and trip from France to America. The Narrator, hasn't been in America for a few years, and is curious of what to expect, since having been there versus France. This dialogue allows for a great glimpse into the story's meaning and theme.

According to Julie Jensen, author of Playwriting: Brief and Brilliant, "Characters should sound different from one another. That's another way of saying, no two characters are the same." Jensen further elaborates, "But characters are what they say and of course what they do, dialogue merely one of the conveyances."

John O'Hara, created volumes of short stories and was esteemed for writing dialogue that was exact and authentic to the people and city, that were central in his works. In his short story, First Day in Town, O'Hara writes a conversation at a restaurant, between Harry Browning, a key figure in the entertainment business, and main character Nick Orlando, an actor, as they begin to catch up on each other's comings and goings in the entertainment industry. Meal scenes are written usually to see what's going on with the characters.

You eat yet or meeting someone?"

"I ate before, but I'll have a cup of coffee with you, " said Nick Orlando

Writers employ dialogue in Literature, to make the story come alive, beyond a description. Ernest Hemingway delivers a memorable ending, in the final lines of dialogue for the novel, The Sun Also Rises. The speaker and one of the main characters, Jake, is referring specifically to the idea that he and Brett, his romantic interest, could have had a good time together.

Isn’t it pretty to think so?"

If the reader or audience doesn't find what the characters are saying as believable or real, then the story will be without it's relevance and the reader or audience will find it hard to be involved with the story. How dialogue is developed and used in the literary work, becomes necessary in creating for the reader or audience, a story that is both engaging and memorable.

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