DIALOGUE IN CHAPTER BOOKS
In chapter books, authors use a combination of dialogue and description to hook the reader and move the story forward. When writing dialogue in chapter books, several factors must be taken into consideration, including the style of language used, the goal of the writer to show action, humor and heart, and the objective of portraying readable dialogue.
When crafting dialogue in chapter books, the age of the reader, usually between four to nine, is important. The language should be easily understood although there can be challenging words as well. And the sentence structure should be relatively uncomplicated for this age group. The speech patterns of the characters should give the reader a clue about the characters’ personalities and goals. And the dialogue can show action in the story through the indication of body language and movement. Also, humor and heart can shine through solid dialogue, especially when the writer includes specific and interesting details.
To draft dialogue accurately, try some of the following tips. Place yourself in situations where you can observe children. Listen to your own children or grandchildren, or the kids of friends. Volunteer at a local school, library, or bookstore. Observe children on the playground or in restaurants. Notice what they are saying to each other and to those around them and take notes. Those snippets of conversations could fit right in to your next chapter book manuscript. Also, read current chapter books and consider how authors write the dialogue in their books. You can read the dialogue aloud to hear how it sounds and what the words convey. Finally, think like a child. Write the dialogue as a child would speak, not how an adult would converse. Keep the dialogue authentic, interesting, and easy to understand.
Here are three examples of snappy dialogue in recent chapter books:
Maddy McGuire, CEO: Pet Camp, By Emma Bland Smith, Illustrated by Lissie Marlin (ABDO Publishing, 2018)(this dialogue sets up the pet camp plot. Vivid details and movement help draw the reader in and make the idea believable).
“We can run a summer camp!”
“You can’t run a camp. You’re not a grown-up.”
“I could do it! Mom would help me.”
At least Maddy hoped she would.
“Actually, that’s a pretty good idea,” said Drew. “School is almost over, so the timing is right. It could have a theme. Like coding!” Drew had been to a coding camp last summer.
Maddy jumped up. “No, not coding. It has to be something I’m really into.”
“Okay, then what?” asked Drew.
She looked at her red horse notebook. She jingled the animal charms on her bracelet. She glanced at the stuffie basket. It overflowed with kittens, puppies, and rabbits.
“Pet camp!” she shouted.
Warren & Dragon: 100 Friends, by Ariel Bernstein, Illustrated by Mike Malbrough (Puffin Books, 2018)(the personality of Dragon already shines, as he eats his marshmallow and huffs and puffs. Also, the heart of the story about friendship and the sibling relationship is evident even in this brief dialogue).
“I don’t mind moving,” I say. And it’s true. I won’t have to listen to our neighbor Ms. Reilly call me “Warri-Boo” anymore.
“That’s because you don’t have any friends.” Ellie says.
“That’s not true!” I do not say it might be true. “Dragon is my friend.”
“Dragon isn’t real.”
“I am so offended,” Dragon says in between bites of marshmallow.
Ellie shakes her head. She looks a lot like Mom when she does that.
“You shouldn’t offend Dragon. He gets scary when he’s offended.”
Dragon huffs and puffs as best he can.
Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence, pictures by Elizabet Vukovic (Farrar Straus Giroux Book for Young Readers, 2017) (this dialogue is written using age-appropriate language and vivid details, and the emotion of the younger sister will resonate with the reader).
“I’m going to help make mochi,” I said to Sophie.
She kept picking at her orange nails. “You’re too little. You’ll only get in the way.”
“I’m big enough.” Yesterday I noticed I came up to Sophie’s chin. During the summer I came up to her shoulder. I was growing!
“Just wait your turn,” she said.
This year, Sophie would sit at the table in the backyard with Mom and all the other women. She would probably get to sit right next to Obaachan, our grandma who came from Japan every year for the holidays.
“Stop pouting and finish cleaning,” Sophie said. “You’ll get your turn at mochi-tsuki when you’re ten.”
I wished there was something I could do before her. Something she could never do.
* * *
Enjoy writing dialogue during ChaBooChaLite 2018! Happy creating, and I look forward to reading the dialogue in your future chapter books!
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, Melissa can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.