Use Dialogue to Advance Your Plot

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.

“How’d you…”

“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.

Thank you.



Show Me the Story! – Writing Tips

Show don’t tell.

There are things in life that need to be chewed on for some time before the light bulb comes on and we enter the realm of understanding. Showing and not telling is one of the things that took a while for me to understand. Since the light bulb has come on, my writing has not been the same.

But what does this mean? Let me give you an example.

“Charlie was furious”.

This is a line you might come across in your own writing, or at least phrases like this. These phrases describe a scene, but fall unequivocally short of painting what is happening inside the character. This tells what has happened – Charlie was furious. This does not allow us to get to know the character to advance the story. Albeit, it might be a justifiable fury, but in the end if falls short to enrapture the reader in the tale you are in the process of spinning.

So, how do you show something without telling it? Glad you asked. Let’s revisit Charlie in the “furious” scene.

Charlie ran as fast as he could after Harry, but the older boy was much faster and was soon out of sight, cackling as he sprinted over the hill. Charlie punched his fist. He roared and raged kicking the dirt and screamed obscenities which echoed across the green glen.

Here, we are not sure what happened to evoke such anger, but the action is what pulls us in. The action of punching, screaming, kicking, and the echoing obscenities. Whatever it was, it made Charlie furious. But I didn’t say that now did I?

I hope you found this brief tip and example helpful.

I also hope you have time to enter your writer’s world this weekend.

Keep writing my friends.