Small Talk–Dialogue in Juvenile Fiction

“An individual’s speech is as unique as his handwriting, his manner of dress, his voice, walk, gestures, his smile and his eyes.” So wrote Anne Chamberlain.

Indeed, nothing reveals so much about a character as what he says, and when and how he says it. Consider what we learn about Bradley in the opening chapter of Louis Sachar’s novel. There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom:

“Hey, Bradley, wait up!” somebody called after him.

Startled, he turned around.

Jeff, the new kid, hurried alongside him. “Hi,” said Jeff.

Bradley stared at him in amazement.

Jeff smiled. “I don’t mind sitting next to you,” he said. “Really.”

Bradley didn’t know what to say.

“I have been to the White House,” Jeff admitted. “If you want, I’ll tell you about it.”

Bradley thought a moment, then said, “Give me a dollar or I’ll spit on you.”

The author could have told us that Bradley was a disturbed child with a major chip on his shoulder. He didn’t. Instead, he let Bradley himself show us.

In The Bad Dreams of a Good Girl, by Susan Shreve, no one has to tell us that there’s a bit of sibling rivalry in the McDaniel household:

“I plan to eat in my bedroom if we have one more conversation at dinner about exceptional Lotty,” Nicholas said.

“Exceptionally boring Lotty,” Philip said.

“Go to your room,” my father said.

“That will be a pleasure,” Philip said.

The characters tell us themselves. And they do it more effectively and with more spirit–or sizzle, if you will–than if the author had told us that Nicholas and Philip were sick of hearing about Lotty.

Dialogue gives the reader a direct link with the characters in a book. It helps the characters come to life on the page, and the reader is right there to listen in on the conversation.

Condensed from an article written and copyrighted by Larry Dane Brimner.




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