Dialogue That Does Something (Reading Like a Writer Series)


It's time for another experiment:

Consider this first line of dialogue from Charlotte's Web (1952) by E.B. White:

"'Where's Papa going with the ax?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."

What does this line of dialogue lead you to think?

How does it make you feel?

How does it draw you into the story?

Now, consider if the line of dialogue had read something like this:

"Hi, Papa!," yelled Fern to her dad as he walked past the door, carrying an ax.

"Hi, Fern," Papa replied.

What does this dialogue lead you to think?

How does it make you feel?

How does it draw you into the story?

How is it different from the previous example?

In the first example, the dialogue that the author included is more than just words that one character says to another. "Where's Papa going with the ax?" gives the reader a sense of setting and action, but it also helps create a mood. You can tell something is up with Papa and that his heading to the barn so early in the morning is not necessarily a good thing.

Dialogue, when used well, is the perfect writing tool to move a story forward without having to over-explain things. It allows the reader to use their own thinking to draw inferences, make predictions, and fill-in-the-blanks that enrich the reading experience.

When students add dialogue to their narratives, what kind of dialogue are they including? Most often, it is similar to the second example. They are adding dialogue just to have their characters speak, not to move the story forward.

Using mentor texts and your read aloud to read like a writer is the perfect tool for discovering how to effectively use dialogue when writing. Students need to see how other authors are using dialogue in order to understand h