Standing alone

For short passages, good dialogue will stand alone without any action at all as you can see from the following conversation between a customer and a shop assistant:

'I bought this toaster yesterday and it doesn't work properly.'

'I see. What would you like us to do about it?' 'Give me a replacement of course.' 'I'll have to get clearance from the manager but she's at lunch right now.' 'OK. I'll wait.'

There is no problem understanding the situation. We can easily tell which one is speaking and the dialogue flows perfectly well.

Within the context of a story where we are familiar with the characters and the plot, a short conversation like this keeps the action moving very effectively. It should not, however, be sustained for too long for a number of reasons:

♦ unless we know the characters beforehand, we have no idea what they look like

♦ it is more difficult to assess the mood of the characters

♦ no matter how distinctive the voices, the conversation will eventually become confusing

♦ a long block of unbroken dialogue soon becomes boring. Bringing in some action

Action serves as the descriptive element within dialogue as you can see from the following rewrite:

'I bought this toaster yesterday and it doesn't work properly.' Colin placed the box purposefully on the counter.

' It burns the toast.' Irritably, he pulled the toaster out of its box.

'I see.' Sliding it towards her, the girl turned the dial through its settings in a vain attempt to detect the fault, before smiling helpfully up at Colin, 'What would you like us to do about it?'

Colin sighed impatiently. 'Give me a replacement of course.'

The girl frowned. 'I'll have to get clearance from the manager,' she chewed nervously at her lip, 'but she's at lunch right now.'

' OK.' Colin snatched up the toaster and stuffed it into its box. 'I'll wait.'

From their actions, we can see that the girl is anxious to please but has no idea how to deal with the situation. Colin, on the other hand, is irritable and not about to be palmed off by an inexperienced youngster.

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