The best way to breathe life into your stories is to include a few lines of dialogue. Friends and relatives play a significant part in many of your stories, and the best way to make these people come alive and seem real is to let them speak for themselves.
For example, take this bit of dialogue I lifted from one of my own stories about an adventure my sister and I had when we were quite young:
We screamed so loud that Mother and GranRene flew out the door like someone had shot them out of a gun. They probably broke the record for the twenty-yard dash, running over to that tree.
“There’s a snake.”
“Over there!” We excitedly pointed across the yard to the spot near the house where the snake was making its get-away.
GranRene ran over near it and looked.
“It’s just a bull snake. Bull snakes aren’t poisonous. They eat mice, and they’re good to have around.”
“Don’t you ever scream that way again unless you’re really in danger!” scolded Mother. She looked pale, and there was no question she meant it.
It’s hard to imagine how you could get this message across as well without dialogue.
The main reason people hesitate to use dialogue is concern that there is no way they remember what was said fifty years ago. Don’t let this deter you. If you remember the story, and you remember that people said something, you can do it. After all, it isn’t the exact words that matter, it’s what you remember. That’s what gives the story meaning. You aren’t testifying in court, you are sharing your memory. Whatever words come to mind as you recall the situation are an accurate reflection of your memory and the meaning it has for you.
Another reason people hesitate to write conversationally is uncertainty about the way it should be punctuated. Most of the time this is straightforward, but there are some twists and tangles.
Here’s my opportunity to create a bit of suspense. Stay tuned for the next post. It will include guidelines to tell you everything you always wanted to know about punctuating dialogue, but didn’t know who to ask.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal