For some peculiar reason, I am, like 5 million others, a follower of Radio 4’s The Archers. My daily 13-minute listen in to the “tales of everyday farming folk” keeps me gripped. Some of the characters I dislike, some I despair of, and others I think are fun. It is a soap opera focused on rural life somewhere in middle England, which I tend to assume is Worcestershire. It has been sentimental and benign on the whole but has covered drugs, divorce, domestic violence and other messy aspects of life beginning with D – and other letters.

Most recently, I was spending each episode listening to the net closing in on a man engaged in modern slavery, willing the smooth-operator to be caught out, and his hapless partner to find out.

Then, Coronavirus happened, the recorded scripts ran out and we had an Archer-free period. It is now back in a socially-distanced way, with each episode based on character reflections. This was interesting for the first few, as it is good to get a view from a character, rather than guessing at it from dialogue, but eventually, it became a tad tedious.

What I’ve learned …

Dialogue, it seems, is crucial to moving a story along. When characters talk about themselves, ponder their thoughts, or reflect on events, it is interesting, but the appeal is short-lived. Navel-gazing/single point of view is not terribly exciting. Where’s the conflict?

We need dialogue to move things on, to gather pace, to shift a story forward.

We have tips here on driving your story with dialogue.

Why is it so important? Dialogue is crucial as a communication tool.

  1. Allows the reader to understand different perspectives without laborious explanation.
  2. It is thus useful for marking out differences between characters, one who sees capital punishment as legitimate, another who sees it as immoral, for instance.
  3. It does not solve problems but is a helpful process in writing, as in life, to work towards a solution.
  4. Dialogue is the way characters enact.
  5. It adds in rough edges, thereby adding texture to the pure silken nature of a narrative.
  6. It tells a story but also elaborates on the setting.

Good dialogue can be difficult, so it needs some effort. The best way to learn is through listening to others, but definitely, in a novel, unless your writing is superb, good dialogue is an essential. .