We often hear that we should show and not tell. That our dialogue is too on-the-nose. That we should say it with sub-text. Do it through action.
I’ve certainly leveled those criticisms at my students, and at myself, often enough.
Yet, dialogue is often the most efficient and powerful way to cut to the chase when defining character, stating intent, mapping philosophical or moral terrain.
Some of the most memorable moments in stories come from great lines of dialogue:
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” Rhett Butler ~ Gone with the Wind.
“Time to die.” Roy Batty ~ Blade Runner.
“You can’t have organized crime without law and order.” Don Falcone ~ Gotham.
“I’ll be back!” Terminator ~ The Terminator.
“Here’s Johnny!” Jack Torrance ~ The Shining.
These lines, and countless others like them, instantly recall the characters and stories they came from. They encapsulate some essential aspect of the story. They act as hangers upon which we hang major parts of the tale. Without them stories would be poorer and less memorable.
In my classes on storytelling I advise new writers to seek out several iconic lines that best sum up the nitty-gritty of their stories, from the get-go. This not only encourages students to think deeply about the motivation of their characters, but about how this motivation lies at the heart of all great stories, too.
Hasta la vista, baby.
Include memorable dialogue in your stories.
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Image: David Goehring