Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tension In Dialogue

The key to tension in dialogue is to make the reader interested in what will be said next. Gary Provost says: "Tension is the heart of successful dialogue and all of your dialogue should have it".
How do you put tension into dialogue? We'll go over a couple of ways you can accomplish this. Basically, tension in dialogue will keep your reader curious about what is happening beneath the words. Now, if there is nothing going on, then you need to cut the dialogue and use a transitional phrase to move your characters into a situation where something, either emotionally or physically, is happening to them.

Here are a few sentences of static dialogue:
"Hello, Dr. Mason, found any mummies yet?"
"Not yet." Adrian Mason leaned against the wall of stone and turned up his water bottle. Susan fanned herself, unaccustomed to the desert heat. "Certainly is hot out here."
"Yeah. Only the hearty can withstand the summer in Egypt. Don't you agree?"
"I suppose so." She smiled. "I've never considered myself hearty but I'm going to stick around, Dr. Mason."

Here is an example using their dialogue to create confrontation and conflict.

"Hello, Dr. Mason, found any mummies yet?"
"Susan. You're up already and it isn't noon yet. I'm impressed. What's the special occasion?" Adrian Mason leaned against the wall of stone and turned up his water bottle.
"I had truly hoped to find you in the dust, dead from a heat stroke." She fanned herself.
"Sorry to disappoint you but I'm used to working in the heat," he said. "Only the hearty can withstand the heat in Egypt, so I advise you to pack up and head back to England."
"Oh, you do?" She pushed up the brim of her straw hat. "That's probably good advice since I associate being hearty with being lower-class. However, I do have my principles and one of them to stick around and make certain you don't steal any more of my father's money for this worthless search."

You can also add tension between the lines using point-of-view. This tends to be less confrontational but there is still tension despite the opposition not being as direct.

"Hello, Dr. Mason, found any mummies yet?"
"Not yet." Adrian Mason leaned against the wall of stone and turned up his water bottle. He was impressed that his benefactor's uppity daughter had managed to get up before noon. Susan was one of those women who coveted the lazy lifestyle of the well-to-do as well as her father's money. She fanned herself, unaccustomed to the desert heat, and he took pleasure in her misery.
"Certainly is hot out here," she remarked, looking like a withering rose.
"Yeah," he agreed. Too hot for the pathetic rich girls. "Only the hearty can withstand the summer in Egypt. Don't you agree?"
"I suppose so. You know, I've never considered myself hearty," she answered. The faint glimmer of hope he felt vanished as she gave him a clever smile. "But I'm going to stick around, Dr. Mason, and keep an eye on you."

One more tip from Provost about dialogue. If you are stuck, imagine dialogue as waves of feeling being exchanged between two people.