I’m a Jane Austen fan. That probably seems odd since I’m male and write Westerns. The Wild West and English countryside have little in common. But I’m talking about writing, not venue. I admire great dialogue and consider Jane Austen the champion. (My books tend to be dialogue driven, but I don’t consider myself in the same league with Ms. Austen.)
Although good description is essential, I seldom find myself stopping to admire a piece of prose describing the landscape. But perfect dialogue stops me every time. My fascination with dialogue probably comes from my own inept retorts. I always think of the right thing to say hours later. Writing novels, I can return to a scene and insert a whiz-bang snippet of dialogue any time I want. Fiction is great.
The mantra of writing is show, don’t tell. Dialogue is an effective way to show character. Here is an example from Pride and Prejudice. This is the reader’s first introduction to Mr. Bennet.
Mrs. Bennet says,
"Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my nerves' "
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least."
In fifty-eight words, Austen has gone a long way in showing us the character of two major figures in her story.
I bring Austen up because I found a website with her unpublished work in both manuscript and transcribed formats--side by side. Most of this is not her best work, but writers and Austen enthusiasts may find it interesting. You can find it here.