Narrative Writing


Adding Conflict to Your Dialogue

Every year, I read far too many dialogues like this:

"What do you think we should do?" Tricia asked.

"Let's explore the tunnel and see where it leads," Gina answered.

"I agree," Tricia said. "Let's take out our flashlights."

"Yeah, it's really dark. Are you ready?"

"I think so. Let's go."

The problem with that dialogue is that there's no conflict. The characters are in complete agreement about what to do. The following dialogue would be far more interesting.

"What do you think we should do?" Tricia asked.

"Let's explore the tunnel and see where it leads," Gina answered.

"Are you crazy?" Tricia blurted. "Have you forgotten that we just saw a monster go into that tunnel? Let's go home!"

"Ah, come on, Gina. Don't be a chicken. We'll just follow the tunnel a little way. I'm curious. Aren't you?"

"I'm not that curious. And besides, we don't have flashlights."

Gina dug into her backpack. "Lucky for us, I remembered to bring one."

Tricia groaned. "I have a bad feeling about this."

Here, at least, we have a bit of tension—some disagreement which keeps the story interesting.

Even better: Try to include a battle of wits between your protagonist and your antagonist. It could be some momentous showdown, like this:

"That's far enough," said Rufus. "Take one step closer, and I'll shoot her!"

"Don't be a fool. You're surrounded. You'll never get away. It's time to give yourself up."

"Never! I'd rather die than go back to prison. Now drop your weapon or you'll be cleaning her brains off the floor."

Or it could be something far more mundane, like this:

"But mother, why can't I go to the dance?" Rebecca whined.

Her mother gave her a look of disapproval. "I warned you. Until you fix those failing grades, you're not going anywhere."

"But Ms. Harmon said I'm doing better! I got a C on my last assignment."

"A C?" her mother snapped. "I didn't raise my daughter to be a C student."

Rebecca fought back tears. "But mother, you don't understand! Stanley is going to be there!"

Hopefully, the dialogue you write will reveal the goals of your characters and move the plot forward. But for God's sake, at the very least, include a bit of tension in your dialogue. Have your characters disagree about something.

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