Dialogue Case Study: “Season of Storms,” from The Witcher Series

Dialogue may be one of the hardest things for a writer to perfect. When it comes to showing instead of telling, Andrzej Sapkowski is a master. In his books, dialogue is the primary source of storytelling–you can go pages without exposition, but the reader always knows exactly what’s happening around the conversation. The characters have unique voices and lengthy conversations are easy to follow, engaging, funny, and informative. In Season of Storms specifically, Sapkowski uses dialogue to narrate what’s happening in the scene without breaking the conversation up with exposition.

To set the scene, Geralt, our hero with long white hair and a quiet, grunt-y disposition returns to his lady-friend from a surprise gladiator fight of sorts with an experimental monster developed by a rogue wizard. Lytta (though her preferred name is Coral), a sorceress, fusses over his injuries while ordering her assistant, Mozaik, around.

King Belohun’s bell was just striking midnight when [Geralt] returned.

Coral, it ought to be acknowledged, kept calm and reserved. She knew how to control herself. Even her voice didn’t change. Well, almost.

“Who did that to you?”

“A vigilosaur. A kind of lizard…”

“A lizard put in those stitches? You let a lizard stitch you up?”

“The stitches were put in by a physician. And the lizard–“

“To hell with the lizard! Mozaik! A scalpel, scissors and tweezers. A needle and catgut. Elixir of woundwort. Decoction of aloes. Unguentum ortolani. A compress and sterile dressing. And prepare a mustard seed and honey poultice. Move, girl!”

Mozaik made short work of it. Lytta set about the procedure. The Witcher sat and suffered in silence.

Sapkowski, A. (2018). Season of Storms. Orbit Books: New York. Page 123.

The paragraph that beings with “To hell with the lizard!” is a fantastic example of “Show, don’t tell.” Instead of saying, “Coral ordered Mozaik to gather her supplies and fussed over Geralt,” her exasperation is captured in the dialogue.

The exclamation at the beginning of the paragraph followed by “Mozaik!” elevates the energy of the text–we know that Coral has raised her voice, bossing Mozaik around and can picture her getting up and examining the stitches, rolling up her sleeves to start fixing the physicians rough stitch job. The exposition between the dialogue lines are simple, effective, and even choppy, which reflects the tone of the room perfectly.

“Not only magic heals,” Geralt risked an opinion. “And physicians are necessary. There’s only a handful of specialized healing mages, and ordinary sorcerers don’t want to treat the sick. They either don’t have time or they don’t think it worth it.”

“They think right. The results of overpopulation may be disastrous. What’s that? That thing you’re fiddling with.”

“The vigilosaur was tagged with it. It had it permanently attached to its hide.”

Sapkowski, A. (2018). Season of Storms. Orbit Books: New York. Page 123.

This is a prime example of using dialogue to narrate what’s happening without being obvious or cliche. Coral asking what Geralt is holding tells the reader that he’s pulled the tag out of his bag/pocket with the intention of showing her. The flow of conversation isn’t interrupted by, “Coral noticed the plate that Geralt held in his hands,” but rather carries on seamlessly with Coral’s comment on the plate and his reply.

“You’re asked to go [to Rissberg] forthwith. Bearing in mind your injuries, when will you be able to set off?”

“Bearing in mind my injuries, you tell me. Physician.”

“I shall tell you. Later… But now… You won’t be around for some time and I shall miss you… How do you feel now? Will you be able… That’ll be all, Mozaik. Go to your room and don’t disturb us. What’s the meaning of that smirk? Am I to freeze it permanently to your mouth?”

Sapkowski, A. (2018). Season of Storms. Orbit Books: New York. Page 124. Italics added.

This section is very cleverly written. Geralt’s addition of, “Physician,” is affectionately patronizing, and Coral falls for it. The ellipses used in the final paragraph demonstrate her awkwardness in trying to hint that she will miss him (physically) and she interrupts herself to dismiss Mozaik. Again, without breaking the interaction between Coral and Geralt, Sapkowski still conveys the visuals of the story: Coral is done fussing and wants to be alone with Geralt; she realizes they are not alone quite yet and dismisses Mozaik, who we assume has been lingering in the room; Geralt is amused by Coral’s efforts and is smirking at her.

This style of using dialogue to describe what’s happening in the scene is clever, effective, and immersive. Try using dialogue to cut exposition and keep your story moving.

And if you haven’t read The Witcher series yet, I highly recommend it.

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