If you are doing omniscient, how do you do dialogue without head hopping? How do you make normal fiction writing dialogue work in omniscient?
What a struggle.
Because you can’t head hop, you either have to integrate the thoughts into dialogue, or put it in your narrative as no-voice head hopping.
So what do you do with dialogue?
How to make it work?
The Purpose of Dialogue in Omniscient
What is the purpose? The main person is to enrich the story by making the characters talk without doing no-voice head hopping. You could do no-voice head hopping throughout the story, but that would be pretty boring and the characters will not be very engaging. It’ll just be a lot of “he felt” or “she believed” over and over.
You want your readers to be engaged with the story and to see the scenes. You do that by putting your characters’ voices in their heads.
There are also moments where it is more striking or shocking or meaningful to “hear” the character say it in their own words, so to speak.
For example, sarcasm.
Gilbert’s frown turned up into a smirk. “Ah, the great Mr. Quad’s son, I see! Well, that’s an honor,” he said with sarcasm that Henry didn’t catch.
The part in bold, if just explained in commentary or description will not be so interesting:
Gilbert’s frown turned up into a smirk. He expressed how great it was to have the son of a Quad in his store. Henry didn’t catch the sarcasm.
While it still makes sense, it’s not engaging enough. Instead of saying that Gilbert expressed something, it’s more engaging to the reader if he actually expressed it. In other words, the reader hears how he said it. Gilbert emphasizes one of the words and that can’t really be expressed in commentary or description as you can see.
Something else that can get lost if put into commentary or description is the character’s character and their supposed relationship with other characters especially when it comes to omniscient.
Here’s a scene where a mailman comes to hand one of the main characters, Mordecai Quad, a letter from the bank. Mordecai is a man from the elite society and despises the peasantry which is made clear in previous paragraphs.
“…Has the great Mr. Quad finally succumbed to the peasantry?” he teased and handed Mordecai a letter from the bank.
would sound different if:
The mailman teased Mordecai about perhaps succumbing to the peasantry as he handed him a letter from the bank.
It’s comes off very flat and “the great Mr. Quad” part is lost because that is the mailman’s perspective of things. It also almost sounds like the characters are not engaging with each other.
Dialogue or Not?
While there are times where this flatness works, there are times when it doesn’t. I found myself constantly having to decide if I wanted to just use commentary or description for certain dialogue. Sometimes I would even write the dialogue, but then delete it and change it to commentary/description because the dialogue didn’t add anything to the story.
Other times I would change commentary/description to moments of dialogue because it sounded more engaging.
Here is a moment where Mordecai’s wife, Georgina, comes upon a murder scene and is curious, but her daughter’s tutor, Thomas Benedict, holds her back. This is one such moment where I hesitated for a bit wondering if I should just use commentary/description or not.
She wanted to see a victim herself too and leaned forward into the crowd when Thomas held her back.
“I don’t think you should. The real thing is far worse than those drawings in the newspaper. I shall be on my way now,” he said and let go of her arm.
I could have just described what happened between the characters.
She wanted to see the victim herself too and leaned forward into the crowd when Thomas held her back. He warned it was worse than the drawings in the newspaper. Then he let go of her arm and walked away.
You can see the difference. There is less here in this paragraph without dialogue. The moment where Georgina is about to say “Mr. Benedict” gives some sense of her character. She is questioning why he is holding her back because from her point of view, she is as curious as the other spectators. You can kind of see that through the dialogue, but not so much when the dialogue is absent.
Also, “I don’t think you should” is lost without dialogue. This part gives a sense of curiosity about Thomas Benedict. Why doesn’t he think she should? Because it’s gruesome or something else (as readers may wonder based on previous paragraphs)?
Because some important things may be lost, I chose to make this dialogue instead of commentary/description.
Dialogue also gives the reader something to be engaged in during an otherwise stagnant scene like a phone call. I could say that the characters had a phone call, this is how it went, and let’s move on. Or, I can engage the reader into the phone call.
This is a phone call between Fernando and his father. Fernando is calling to tell his father that his fiancé would like to visit their home in the countryside.
“Papa, it’s Fernando.” He smiled into the receiver at his father’s voice.
“Oh! My boy!” came his father’s excited voice. “Something you want?”
“She said she would like to visit.”
“Ah, did she say? Have you called your mother?”
A phone call is the most interesting way to engage the reader in any story whether omniscient or not because you get to see how characters react with each other when not face-to-face.
I find nuances and subtleties can be easily mentioned through phone conversations especially when characters are doing things while on the phone. Such as Fernando smiling into the receiver.
Next in the series: Omniscient Discoveries 5: A Story About Who…?