Tuesday, April 12, 2016

0 Five Ways to Use Dialogue to Spice Up The Middle of Your Novel

The middle of a book is often daunting. There are so many writing beats and rules for getting that first third off the ground running, everything from the opening image to where the theme is stated, and from the inciting incident to the first turning point. All of those very specific moments in a manuscript are well documented and often taught in great detail. The middle? Not so much.

With the middle, we have at least an entire third of the book with nothing but vague references to "fun and games" or "meeting the mentors" to guide us. But for all that, the middle is the greatest past.

Why? Because it's where the magic between characters happens. Once we've had the setup and we've met the characters, we can see them beginning to interact with each other in response to the circumstances they are encountering. This is where the tension comes to full boil and the sparks begin to fly.

As writers, we achieve those sparks not only with open conflict and big scenes, we also build it through quiet and careful moments. Making the most of those moments is often one of the things that distinguishes a good book from a great one.

And one of the best ways to demonstrate electric chemistry is through dialogue. The right kind of dialogue.

If you have two characters sitting around telling each other exactly what they each want to know, you're going to have a boring scene. Even if they are in the midst of chasing each other across the desert on horseback, if they state their knowledge and opinions plainly, you are missing out on some great opportunities to add more tension.


  • Never state it outright. In real life, most people do answer the questions they are asked. But in fiction, we need to get out of that habit wherever possible. By the middle of the book, as readers we know (or suspect) what each of the characters wants or needs. And since conflict is the lynchpin of storytelling, we want to induce conflict in a scene. As writers, we need to know what each character wants, and that means we know what each character is hiding. At any given time when you want to reveal information, think who has it and has motive to try to hide it. Then give us the scene where one character has to make the other answer the questions. Give us that conversation with all the nuances and secrets instead of the bald facts. 
  • Don't keep calm and carry on. We learn a lot about characters in the heat of the moment, when they make admissions and blurt things out that they never intended to reveal. Give us those moments in the middle of the book, and as readers, we'll follow your characters anywhere.
  • Introduce secrets, lies, and misunderstandings. The best dialogue is confrontation or interrogation. And characters lie. They hide things--not only from other characters, but also from themselves. Framing your dialogue in this way, you suddenly have not only conflict but adversarial tension. Instead of concentrating on what your characters are saying, the characters suddenly have to think about their arguments, and wonder who is winning, and focus on their own goals. With all that going on in their heads, they lose their concentration too easily. Things slip past them as a result. Characters misunderstand each other for a variety of reasons, and as a writer, that gives you the option to create fun plot twists and a much more realistic dialogue.
  • Posture for power. Create situations where there's always a winner and a loser, an imbalance of power. Make your dialogue a duel and let it fly at your reader with the sharpness of a saber. They'll love the dynamic between the characters and eagerly turn the pages to find more of that.
  • Take the roundabout route. Work the conversation or surrounding action in an unexpected direction and then suddenly swing it back around to where you need to be. Start talking about the weather, for example, and have subtext or double meanings or unexpected pivot points that make the conversation about something completely different than it appears to be on the surface. Your readers will learn a lot about all those characters, and they'll become excited about reading more.


About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

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