Dialogue Definition, Examples and Observations

dialogue between Saints Peter and Paul
Saints Peter and Paul by Daniele Crespi (1598-1630). Paolo e Federico Manusardi/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
  1. Dialogue is a verbal exchange between two or more people (compare with monologue). Also spelled dialog.
  2. Dialogue also refers to a conversation reported in a drama or narrative. Adjective: dialogic.

When quoting dialogue, put the words of each speaker inside quotation marks, and (as a general rule) indicate changes in speaker by starting a new paragraph.

Etymology
From the Greek, "conversation"

Examples and Observations

Eudora Welty: In its beginning, dialogue's the easiest thing in the world to write when you have a good ear, which I think I have. But as it goes on, it's the most difficult, because it has so many ways to function. Sometimes I needed a speech do three or four or five things at once—reveal what the character said but also what he thought he said, what he hid, what others were going to think he meant, and what they misunderstood, and so forth—all in his single speech.

Robertson Davies: [T]he dialogue is selective--finely polished, and arranged to convey the greatest possible amount of meaning with the least use of words. . . . [Dialogue] is not a phonographic reproduction of the way people actually talk. It’s the way they would talk if they had time to get down to it and refine what they wanted to say.

Sol Stein: Talk is repetitive, full of rambling, incomplete, or run-on sentences, and usually contains a lot of unnecessary words. Most answers contain echoes of the question. Our speech is full of such echoes. Dialogue, contrary to popular view, is not a recording of actual speech; it is a semblance of speech, an invented language of exchanges that build in tempo or content toward climaxes. Some people mistakenly believe that all a writer has to do is turn on a tape recorder to capture dialogue. What he'd be capturing is the same boring speech patterns the poor court reporter has to record verbatim. Learning the new language of dialogue is as complex as learning any new language.

John McPhee: Once captured, words have to be dealt with. You have to trim and straighten them to make them transliterate from the fuzziness of speech to the clarity of print. Speech and print are not the same, and a slavish presentation of recorded speech may not be as representative of a speaker as dialogue that has been trimmed and straightened. Please understand: you trim and straighten but you do not make it up.

Anne Lamott: There are a number of things that help when you sit down to write dialogue. First of all, sound your words--read them out loud. . . . This is something you have to practice, doing it over and over and over. Then when you're out in the world--that is, not at your desk--and you hear people talking, you'll find yourself editing their dialogue, playing with it, seeing in your mind's eye what it would look like on the page. You listen to how people really talk, and then learn little by little to take someone's five-minute speech and make it one sentence, without losing anything.

P.G. Wodehouse: [A]lways get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a big slab of prose at the start.

Philip Gerard: Just as in fiction, in nonfiction dialogue—voices talking out loud on the page—accomplishes several important dramatic effects: It reveals personality, provides tension, moves the story along from one point to another, and breaks the monotony of the narrator's voice by interjecting other voices that speak in contrasting tones, using different vocabularies and cadences. Good dialogue lends texture to a story, the sense that it is not all one slick surface. This is especially important in a blatantly first-person narrative, since it offers the reader relief from a single, narrow viewpoint. The voices in dialogue can enhance or contradict the narrator's voice and contribute irony, often through humor.

Pronunciation: DI-e-log

Also Known As: dialogism, sermocinatio