Dialogue is one of the best ways to reveal emotions, but it can also be overused.
If you only use dialogue to reveal emotions, the reader doesn’t quite get into the character’s head. They’re an audience at a play, not inside the character’s skin.
Use dialogue in conjunction with thoughts, physical reactions, and actions in order to give your reader the full effect of the character’s emotions.
Many times, the greatest emotion is conveyed by what the character doesn’t say.
This is called subtexting or “cross-talk.” Sometimes it is also referred to as “off the nose” dialogue.
Sometimes, you read dialogue and can take it at face value. Other times, there are subcurrents under the actual words said, meanings deeper and perhaps even the opposite of the dialogue.
Those subcurrents make for juicy, conflicted, tension-filled dialogue.
For a good example of subtexting (with commentary), read the Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine September 2006 edition.
One of the best books on subtexting is Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins. If you haven’t yet read that book, go out and buy it now!
Dialogue is war:
Randy Ingermanson puts out the Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine, and in one of his articles he talks about how dialogue is WAR.
It doesn’t mean people have to have shouting matches at each other, but people should be fighting with each other, usually with subtexting and emotional undercurrents.
“All dialogue had better have conflict in it FIRST. That means two characters talking who have opposing interests.” –Randy Ingermanson, Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine
For example, Character A trying to withhold information from Character B, and Character B trying to get Character A to ’fess up. Or Character C trying to get her point across to Character D, while Character D is holding fast to her denial.
Conflict and undercurrents in dialogue are what make your reader feel the emotions of the character.