Turning Narration into Dialogue

One of the most challenging tasks facing a fiction writer is to convey basic background information to the reader. Writers want readers to know their characters’ back stories, their early challenges, their professional backgrounds, their insecurities, and their hair color. But readers usually want to dive into the “real” action of the story, and they can find too much information tedious.

Therein lies the writer’s challenge—to provide enough information for the story to make sense but in a way that keeps the reader’s attention.

One of the most interesting ways for writers to convey important information painlessly to their readers is through believable dialogue. Many writers can rework narrative passages, turning them into information-rich dialogue that keeps the plot humming along.

What follows are two examples of narrative sections successfully converted into dialogue. The changes are major, but the passages read more colorfully and believably for the reader.

Example 1:

narration
Shirley had always been afraid of spiders. She wasn’t sure when she first noticed her fear, but it had been debilitating for a very long time. She couldn’t even look at a spider without feeling faint. Now, as she followed Steve into the cave, she could feel her fear resurface. She didn’t want Steve to know how afraid she was.

dialogue
“You’re not afraid of spiders, are you, Shirley?” Steve smiled as he held a branch aside for her.

“No, no. I mean, not particularly.” Shirley ran a finger over her upper lip, hoping Steve hadn’t noticed the droplets of perspiration.

“I mean—because this cave might be full of them.” Steve looked back at her.

“No, I’m fine.” Shirley took several deep breaths, hoping her lightheadedness would pass.

Example 2:

narration
Tommy was a spoiled child. He always knew what he wanted, and he argued with his mother until he got it. Sometimes, he made scenes in stores, threatening to throw tantrums if his mother wouldn’t buy him a toy or game. Today, he made a spectacular scene, and his mother bought him a new toy car, just as he wanted.

dialogue
“I want that car—that one—that red one. I want it. I want the red car.” Tommy leaned out of the shopping cart, nearly toppling it with his weight.

“Tommy, we’re not going through this again,” his mother said. “I told you the last time. I’m not buying you more toys.” She tried to keep the cart upright as Tommy leaned toward the toy.

“I said I want it!” Tommy put his foot on the seat of the cart. “I want it now.”

“Tommy, please. Don’t do this again.” His mother lowered her voice, trying to make Tommy talk more softly.

“I want it! Get it for me! Get it for me!” Tommy had begun to bellow, his voice losing control in the way it always did when he and his mother went to the toy store.

“Tommy, sit down. You’re going to fall.”

A little girl stood in the aisle and stared at them. Tommy’s mother smiled weakly at her. “Look, Tommy, you’re scaring this little—“

“I said NOW. I want it NOW.”

There would be no reasoning with Tommy today. His mother ran her hand through her hair. “OK, but this is the last time,” she said. She handed Tommy the car and settled him back into the shopping cart. Tommy smiled quietly to himself.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

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