How to Start with Short Story Dialogue

Hi Lisa!

Thanks a lot for your brilliant question about the use of short story dialogue. You asked:


How do you start a short story with dialogue?  Do you start right in w/dialogue or do you intro the characters and such?


So in other words, you want to know:

When starting a story with dialogue, how do you go about it? Can you even start a story with dialogue, or should you perhaps take the time to develop your characters first?

As to the question, can you start a story with dialogue; the answer is yes, definitely. You can start a story with dialogue. There are no definite rules of how exactly a short story should be structured, therefore, you have a choice as to how you can start it. It is actually up to you.

N.B: Although I am taking it that you are specifically asking about a short story, and how to develop it, the points I discuss can apply even to longer pieces of writing.

The point you have to remember is this: make your introduction as juicy as you possibly can. It should give the reader enough incentive to go on.

Check out this article I wrote on how to make your short story introduction as juicy as you possibly can.

Juicy Short Story Introductions

When writing your introduction, your goal as a writer is to arouse your reader’s curiosity. Whether you use short story dialogue, or a description of the setting or a character, your aim should be to introduce a juicy tidbit, so that by simply reading this juicy part, your readers will want to read the rest of your story, their appetites having been wetted

Most people think that to write a good story, you have to follow the ‘exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution’ formula rigidly and to the letter. The truth is you don’t. Modern short story writing has evolved above that, with emphasis being placed on the exoticness of the plot. In fact, writers who are known to break this pattern fare extremely well.

I am not encouraging you to break all known rules of literature, but to have a new creative approach. In other words, Lisa, you should tackle the same old problems in a new creative way.

Your challenge at the moment is whether or not you should first introduce the characters and describe them fully before you get them to say something to us. This is fine. But, now I am telling you that there is another way.

‘What way?’ you are asking.

How about you get them to say something first then describe them as the narrative tumbles along?

Or better yet, how about jumping in on their conversation and learning about them from those very conversations and their subsequent actions?

Does that not sound exciting? It sure does to me.

I discourage writers from emptying out their character in a single paragraph, or stuffing their introductory paragraphs with detailed sketches of their characters. The irony in this situation is that if you first hit your reader with complete details of your character and then follow this up with a story that has very little reference to the sketch you’ve drafted, your reader will forget the picture you painted. And this is obviously what you don’t want, because if your reader cannot remember your character description, then:

Work done=Zero

On the other hand, if you describe your character in manageable chunks as you go along, your reader will indeed see the character as you want her to see him.

Skilful writers are the ones who know when too much is too much. They know when each detail should come in, and they will work to prevent a situation where their reader is overwhelmed with boring details.

Let’s face it Lisa, people nowadays are becoming hungrier for action. Yeah, I can already see little Johnny jumping up and down in his seat screaming:

“Let’s get on with the action, shall we, huh?”

Therefore, starting your story with detailed character sketches won’t seat well for little Johnny. However, starting a story with dialogue will. It will be as though the story has started right in the middle of the action! Now how can little Johnny surely resist that, eh?

So Lisa, you can actually begin a story with dialogue, and develop your characters as you go along. Let us consider some examples in which short story dialogue is placed at the beginning.  

Hard Choice starts in this manner. Note:


“Boys think we like playing hard to get,” Emily told her friend as they walked up the path towards the university campus. “But they just don’t know that we are afraid.”


Yep, this story starts right in the middle of the action alright. And notice how the next main character, Emma, joins in:


“Very afraid indeed,” her friend, Emma, agreed with a nod of her head.


The story flows quickly, with little or no interruptions to fill in heavy details.

If your worry is that I have not developed the characters, take note of how I develop them through their conversations and actions.

For instance, this bit here tells us about Emma’s emotions:


“That’s the same thing, Emi!” She exclaimed in a high pitched whimper. “If I reveal that I feel the same thing for him, then it’s as good as bringing myself into a commitment with him. My heart is too battered and bruised to commit it to anyone.”


And this part here tells us about Emily’s prevailing disposition:


Emily walked home briskly, humming to herself as she walked. She loved singing, and for her it came naturally and easily.


Here are some more examples of stories which begin with short story dialogue:

 

“I can’t help feeling the way I do ’bout you,” she said, her eyes glistening with tears.
“I’m sorry,” I said determinedly. “I do not feel the same way.”—My True Love.

 

“You can never forget someone you love,” Charles breathed. He walked to the window and stared outside with a mournful expression. “For the rest of your life, you carry their memories in your heart.”
“I disagree,” Francis said with a chuckle of indifference “I think it is possible to forget about someone if you really want to.”—Angela.

 

“You heard the news?” Samuel asked upon entering the room.
“What news?” Matthew asked, without looking up from the computer, over which he stooped, typing away swiftly and skilfully.
“Someone committed suicide again.” –Option C.

 

If you choose to start with detailed character sketches, it is entirely up to you.

However, I think that your story will be more fun if you begin with your story right in the middle of the action; with the dialogue.

Remember, a short story, simply put, is a moment in time. Any such moment, free from the clutter of complex details, makes for a really intriguing story.

How about that for an answer, Lisa?

Check out this article for a comprehensive overview of short story dialogue:

Short Story Dialogue

Return from Short Story Dialogue in Introduction to Ask it!

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