Capturing emotion

One last thing about dialogue: we can use it to express character emotions.

How are the characters in this scene feeling?

“Were your pants sagging?” Dad interrogated, now back over by the door.

“Were my pants sagging?” I repeated, shocked by the question. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Oh, it matters. If it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck…”

My mother glared at him. “David! This is your son we’re talking about. The boy’s never even been suspended.”

The dialogue helps us feel what these characters are feeling. Each character is angry in their own way: the father is angry at his son for getting in trouble at school, the mother and son are angry that the father isn’t taking the son's side. 

Notice we don’t need to be told exactly what the characters are feeling (as in, “Son, I am very suspicious of you and that’s making me angry!”) in order to understand them. We can understand their feelings through details in the dialogue and action.

The firecrackers went off with a thunderous crack. 

Three lions ran, and their leader cried out, “What was that?”

Seeing their fear, Fraidy Cat roared his big roar. 

“Flee!” he shouted. 

“I’m Big,” he yelled. 

“I’m Scary,” he roared. “I’m Cat!”

“We made a mistake,” the leader whimpered. “We don’t want to eat little boys anymore.” And then he turned tail and ran like a scared baby kitten.

“Now go away,” I laughed, “before I show you the fourth thing that clever Gobgap knows.”

We sat on the school rooftop, watching the fireworks illuminate the night sky. There was a silence between us. 

Finally Carmen said, “Do you think life will be as fun after we graduate?”

I smiled.

“I’m sure we can make it be as fun as we want,” I said.

She thought for a moment.

“I’ll miss this. I wish we had done it more.”

Write your own dialogue where you focus on what the characters are feeling, and see what difference that makes in your scene.