When I look back on the first draft of my novel, I cannot help but cringe. I would liken it to a child’s first drawings, but I was not a child when I wrote it. Since that time I have tried to learn the technical parts of the novel while reconciling those rules with the nuances of the craft.
There are things I know: make sure your verbs agree, watch perspective, add a comma at the end of dialogue. However, there are rules I am familiar with that are much harder to learn. Showing and not telling is a perfect example.
Recently, I stumbled upon something that I should have known years ago: Advance the plot through dialogue. When I started writing all those years ago I penned what I thought was a nice beginning:
It was terribly early in the morning, before the sun had even bothered to stretch its rays over the sleeping city of Calelleth and Custos was already dressed, sneaking past his snoring roommates, and ambling down the stairs of the Hall of Arx. The reason for his waking before dawn was twofold. First, because it was harvest time and Custos was a farmer, though many who were to join him in the fields had yet to wake and boil water for their morning teas and coffees. Second, because it was still dark and he did not want anyone to notice his going.
Sadly, I thought this was good at the time. It continues for about four pages before someone else happens upon the scene. However since stumbling upon this tip I have crafted something I think is a bit better:
Custos slipped on his clothes in the dark. He dug his work boots out from under a pile of stinky clothes and a pungent waft of day-old sweat assaulted his nostrils. Custos gagged and stepped backward knocking a chair over. It fell to the floor sending a reverberating crash through the silent room. Custos froze. He listened. His roommates were all breathing heavily, save for one.
“And where do you think you’re going?” asked his best friend Comitis while stifling a yawn.
“Nowhere,” Custos replied while pulling on a boot. “Go back to bed.”
“I’m in bed. You’re the one going somewhere.” Custos rolled his eyes and thrust on his other boot.
“I’ll see you in the fields,” Custos said. Comitis rolled over, groaned and then flopped out of bed. “Um, what are you doing?”
“Going to the woods.” Comitis replied.
“I followed you the other day.” Custos was glad his friend sounded somewhat ashamed. “I’ll come to the edge, no further.” Comitis said as his head popped out from the top of his shirt.
“Calm down, I’ve never actually thought of going in.”
“Sure you haven’t.
Though I feel like this is an improvement I will leave it up for you to decided. Please comment in the section below.
5 thoughts on “Use Dialogue to Advance Your Plot”
Hi Bob – I agree, most definitely adding dialogue does seem to move the story forward at a faster pace. It also gives a much more interesting beginning – adding some mystery and tension to the piece. I like how you changed it. 🙂
Thanks Julie I appreciate the kind feedback!
I agree, too.
The second grabs my attention by showing two characters instead of the mind of one. I’m amazed how anyone can make a story like Robinson Crusoe or Castaway.
Plus, dialogue looks easier–usually smaller paragraphs.
Daniel, thank you for the vote. I’ll consider that during this draft.
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