Don’t Talk to the Hand!

Hand
Don’t talk to the hand:
Dialogue, in books and movies, sometimes gets a bad rap.

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.

Summary

Include memorable dialogue in your stories.

Invitation

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License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
Image: David Goehring

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Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Talk to the Hand!”

  1. Thank you for your introductory ideas. I have studied English conversation, mostly in books, yet chosen with the view to have as natural talk as possible. My initial and first book by Margaret Drabble (a British author), was a very good choice – “A Summer Bird-Cage”. But I also learned that real English dialogue is more idiomatic and less polished. And I did not have a chance to converse with any speakers for many years now, yet I have an idea of cultured British conversation. But when I quote my examples at conferences, Americans protest – “We don’t speak so!” And I have not discovered the differences to this day.
    That is of speaking, and writing it is still more difficult, isn’t it? But your are very right in saying that an apt
    phrase “encapsulate(s) some essential aspect of the story”. This is true even of poetry. I have not yet had a moment to visit your blog, but I will. Thank you.

  2. I’ve always been one to stay away from dialogue whenever possible in my writing. Though lately, I have been experimenting with style. Do you know if there is a work done entirely of dialogue? It would be difficult to execute well, but the end result could be quite interesting.

    1. Thanks for the comment RaeAnna. There are stories, mainly short stories, on various websites that experiment with dialogue only. I find the self-imposed restriction limiting for most situations, however, other than as a stylistic experiment. In my opinion, good dialogue mixed with great narrative description is still the most versatile and satisfying way of telling a story in novels and short stories.

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