What the heck is indirect dialogue and why should you care?

What the heck is indirect dialog and why should you care?

 Dialogue serves many purposes in fiction. It creates tension, deepens characterization and moves the plot forward. As authors, if we don’t supply enough dialog the reader wallows in narrative summary. Too much and she loses interest or gets lost in the verbiage.

In fiction, authors can convey speech with different levels of directness. Most often we use direct quotation that carries with it the sense of action or discovery:

 “Close, the brim is right, but it’s too dreary.” I tried it on, but it perched on top of my head like a kid’s beanie.  “Folks tell me I look like Randolph Scott.”

Harley took the hat and handed me another, this one in my size, a powder blue homburg. “Not Scott,” he said. “More like Burt Lancaster.”

“Oh God, please, not the fancy pants pirate,” I said in mock horror. “Imagine the Judge as Ojo.”

He laughed at that and I knew we’d be just fine. “More like Lancaster in The Killing,” he said, “anguished and resolute.”

In this example from my novel in progress, both Harkness and Harley are quoted directly. The dialog is vibrant and active.

Dialogue can also be indirect. We get the feel of the exchange without a direct quotation.

“Rumor has it that you used to be a spy.”

His eyes flitted right and left, finally they settled on me.  No, he hadn’t been a spy, but he had worked as an intelligence analyst for the government during the war. (Indirect Dialogue)

 “OSS?” He nodded. “Got any contacts there now?”

“Not that I can help it.”

Finally, dialog can be summarized, becoming part of the narrative.

 That’s what I wanted to hear. He wouldn’t have divided loyalties. “Things are going gunnysack around here.” I filled him in on the reports of flying saucers, the Brightside death and my thoughts on the FBI scouring the town for Commies. (Summary Dialogue)  “They may or may not be connected, but I’d like your help in working it all out.”

Here, the reader already knows about local sightings of flying saucers, the Brightside death and FBI agents scouting the county for communist sympathizers.  Repeating the entire conversation would bore the reader and as writers we don’t want to do that.

Not only do we have to study speech patterns and capture the rhythm, pacing and colloquialisms on the page, but we need to change up how we deliver dialog to the reader and give our dialogue vibrancy to hold the reader’s attention. These three techniques can help.


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