Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart is about a young girl who, along with her father, has the ability to read characters from books into the real world. To tell this story, Funke uses dialogue to convey plot-related information and the character’s emotional state to readers in a realistic fashion.
In Inkheart, Meggie has been kept ignorant of several aspects of her past, until a stranger appears one night at her house. Through dialogue, Funke begins to hint at the secrets that have been kept from Meggie. At the time, Meggie is eavesdropping on her father and the stranger:
“I’ll never let them have it.” That was Mo.
“He’ll still get his hands on it, one way or another! I tell you, they’re on your trail.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve always managed to shake them before.”
“Oh yes? And for how much longer, do you think? What about your daughter? Are you telling me she actually likes moving around the whole time? Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.” (8-9)
Through this dialogue readers glean a lot of information. Readers know that someone is after something her father, Mo, has. That Mo is determined to keep the object away from the mysterious person later identified as Capicorn. Mo has been preventing Capicorn from getting the object—in this case a book—from him for years, which is why Meggie has moved so often in her young life. This information is passed along to readers quickly, through dialogue, without it feeling as if the characters are only saying such things to inform the reader of what is going on.
Dialogue can do more than provide information to readers. When done well, we can also get a sense of the characters emotions are through what they. A great example of this is seen when Mo is about to introduce himself to Fenoglio, the author of Inkheart—the book Dustfinger was written out of. The dialogue Funke wrote is filled with emotion:
“Don’t you dare tell that man about me!” he said. “I don’t want to see him. I’ll wait in the car. I only want to know if he still has a copy of the book, understand?”
Mo shrugged his shoulders. “As you like.”
Dustfinger inspected his reddened fingers and felt the taut skin. “He might tell me how my story ends,” he murmured. (243)
In this short exchange we know Dustfinger is afraid. We know that although he wants information from Fenoglio, he doesn’t necessarily want to know everything Fenoglio may want to say to him. Mo comes across as indifferent toward Dustfinger’s request. In three words, Funke reveals that Mo did not necessarily care where Dustfinger was.
Funke also uses dialogue to reveal information and the characters emotions at the same time. A great example of this is when after Meggie, Mo, and Elinor are captured by Capicorn and they’re locked away. Dustfinger makes a comment about those who Capicorn plans to kill are put in the crypt:
Meggie looked at the church. “Do they often condemn people to death?” she asked quietly.
Dustfinger shrugged. “Not as often as they used to. But it does happen.”
“Stop telling her such stories!” whispered Mo. (195)
In those three lines of dialogue we sense that Meggie is concerned, if not afraid of the possibility of being put to death and being where she is. Funke lets readers know through Dustfinger’s dialogue that, although it doesn’t happen as often any more, Capicorn has put people to death in the past. But the way he says it, suggests he’s resigned to the fact and to fate. This also lets readers know that Capicorn is still capable and willing to kill people if he needs or wants to. “Stop telling her stories!” lets readers know that Mo is either feeling protective of Meggie—trying to keep Dustfinger from frightening her or that he is uncomfortable, afraid of the situation they’re in and does not like where the conversation is going. It could be a combination of the two as well.
Funke conveys plot-related and emotional depth through dialogue in a way that does not slow the pace.