Easy Dialogue Ain’t Easy, Part 4: Revision, Step 3, Three’s a Crowd

Our uncle’s gone mouse hunting again, so we’ll listen to your prattle. I hope the three of us aren’t crowding your space.

Three characters don’t crowd a story’s scene, not even four. But I’d be careful not to have too many in one scene because it can make it harder for readers to follow.

So, what happens when a third character enters into a dialogue scene? He/She can deepen the scene’s conflict and/or spin the story’s plot a different direction.

Dialogue– The Third Character

Bill sighed. “Now where are you going, Alice?”

            “Back to the grocery store.” Alice snatched her purse off a chair in the den.

            “Again? Today?”

            “A woman’s got a right to shop.”

            “Not as much as you do.”

            “Well, humph! I forgot to buy eggs.”

            “That’s just an excuse. The eggs can wait.” Bill settled back on the couch and grabbed the remote. He flicked on the television to the sound of cheers—a football game. “Where else do you plan on shopping?”

            Alice jerked open the front door; she gaped at the visitor, George Taylor. Smiling, she let him enter.

            “Hey, Alice! Your knight in shining armor has arrived.” George spread wide his arms as though he wanted a hug.

            “I asked that woman a question,” Bill said.

            George slid his arm around Alice’s shoulders and they embraced. “Your sister happens to be my little lady.” He winked at her. “Hey, what’s happening on the idiot box, Bill, my man?”

            “Cowboys and Giants. First quarter.”

            “Aw, Georgie-pie. My little brother here watches ESPN too much.”

            “I already told you, Alice. I’ll quit watching sports when you quit shopping all the time.”

            “That’ll be the day!” With a hearty laugh, George steered Alice outside to her car.

            Stupid George. Bill upped the volume on his television in time to watch the Cowboys score a touchdown. He couldn’t let those two get married.

Observations on Third Character Dialogue

  • Conflict. I used lighter conflict, but the issue of Alice’s shopping remains the central focus.
  • Surprise. While some readers may have thought Alice and Bill were married in the previous dialogue, the arrival of George reveals that Alice and Bill are siblings. Thus, I used an element of surprise here. Readers enjoy getting surprised.
  • George. I showed his personality through dialogue. Instead of taglines to reveal when he’s speaking, I used beats. Taglines are fine, but don’t overdo them. The same goes for beats, for too many beats can become a distraction. If dialogue is well written, readers should be able to know who is speaking without having to rely on such literary devices. So, use them carefully, and strategically, throughout the dialogue scene.
  • Bill. In the last paragraph, I italicized Bill’s direct thoughts. We’ll discuss direct thoughts later in a future post.

Are we finished yet? I couldn’t find a mouse.

Yes, this wraps up my series on dialogue, at least for now. Hope everyone found something useful in it.

2 thoughts on “Easy Dialogue Ain’t Easy, Part 4: Revision, Step 3, Three’s a Crowd

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