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Build characters and advance your plot with these dialogue best practices

Dialogue is a powerful way to reveal your characters and move your story forward. In The Craft of Character online class through Coursera.org, authors Amy Bloom and Brando Skyhorse discuss the role of dialogue in character development.

The class is part of Wesleyan College’s Craft Your Story Like the Great Writers specialization that takes students through plot, character development, setting and description, and style. The creative writing specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. The classes start at $79 each, but you can access videos and certain assignments free of charge.

In a video interview, Skyhorse, author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, and Bloom discussed the role of dialogue. Great dialogue should:

Reveal your characters. One of the ways readers get to know characters is from what they say as well as what they do, and more specifically, what they do to one another, Skyhorse said.  Dialogue should deepen the reader’s understanding of character or advance the plot.

Advance action. “Dialogue is something that’s organic,” Skyhorse said. “Dialogue is something that should be happening in the moment between two characters. It should be an exchange, really. Basically, it should be like a barter, like one character’s trying to get something from someone else….whether it’s an object, or a kind of concession in some way.”

Convey rising action. A story gathers steam as action heats up, and dialogue is an excellent place to amplify tension. “By rising action, I mean you are escalating the situation in a way that makes it interesting for the reader and forces your character to figure a way out,” Skyhorse says.

Exercise. If you have a manuscript in process, review your dialogue against the best practices above to see how you could improve it.

For more information, visit the creative writing specialization page to sign up and watch the videos.

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