Dialogue Isn’t Always Straight Forward

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
–Peter Drucker

Recently, I read two books that rely heavily on dialogue and not just what is being said, but also how another character misinterprets what has been said or how two people dodge each other’s questions about tough topics.

This simply is not how many of us use dialogue in our manuscripts.  Character 1 asks a question.  Character 2 answers without holding anything back.  Back and forth.  Its like watching straightforward tennis.  Right.  Left.  Right.  Left.

Yet, this is not how most people talk to each other.  Pay attention the next time you ask someone a question.  Sometimes you get “yes” or “no.”  Many other times, you get another question or a statement on another topic.  Then there’s the misinformation on attempts to change the topic.  I’m not saying that everyone is devious and full of bad intent.  Sometimes there are simply things that we don’t want to talk about.  Or we are still processing them and can’t give a complete answer.

Read Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson for a epic example of talking without communicating.  Mom tells Amy what she wants.  Amy thinks it is a wretched idea but she’s been specializing in just going through the motions.  Its not like she knows what she’s going to do but it sounds like she’s going along . . . right up until she doesn’t.

The Shattering by Karen Healey contains several examples of one character simply not hearing what is being said.  The problem is that she interprets what other character say through what she thinks has happened.  Only later does she really understand what was said.

What can you do with the dialogue in your story to avoid the tennis match effect?   Is there some way that you can use dialogue to create tension or to mislead both your character and the reader?


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