Dialogue

If you read as many author interviews as I do then you will probably already know that many writers recommend that you read your dialogue out loud to check that it flows well. Good advice. However, I would like to add that this does not mean that your dialogue should sound natural. Why? Because people talking naturally scatter their sentences with all sorts of unnecessary words such as: right, OK, well, really, ah, um etc. There is no place for these words in your dialogue. Keep it tight. Examine every line of speech you have written and if there is a way of expressing the same sentiment in fewer words, do it.

Here is an example of some shoddy dialogue taken from my own writing:

“Well hurry up, or we’ll miss the show,” Julie called.

“OK, I’ll be there in a minute,” I yelled back. I turned to Russ. “I’m really sorry. I’ve got to go now.”

“That’s OK,” he smiled sadly. “Thanks for visiting.”

All those meaningless words for the reader to trip over! Here’s how I made it snappier:

“Hurry up. We’ll miss the show!” Julie called

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I yelled back. I turned to Russ. “Sorry, I’ve got to go now.”

He smiled sadly. “Thanks for visiting.”

Here is another tip: don’t use dialogue where none is required. Dialogue should serve a purpose. If it is not important to the readers’ understanding of a character or does not advance the plot in some way, take it out. For example, in my novel-in-progress, I have written a scene where two characters go to a bar:

“What can I get you?” the barman asked. “A Sex on the Beach for me please,” Julie said flirtatiously. Louise would have been too embarrassed to ask for a Sex on the Beach even if she had wanted one. “Can I just have an orange juice please?” “Sure,” the barman replied.

What is the point of all those distracting quotation marks? An improvement would be:

Julie ordered a Sex on the Beach, smiling flirtatiously at the barman. Louise would have been too embarrassed to ask for a Sex on the Beach even if she had wanted one and instead asked for an orange juice.

Here is my final dialogue tip: start at the end and work backwards. If the point of a conversation is, for example, that a husband admits to his affair, write his confession first then think about what his wife could have said to make him blurt it out. If you start writing a section of dialogue where you think the beginning should be, you might find it rambling around and going off on tangents before it arrives at the crucial point. I have written lots of short stories with rambling dialogue but I’m trying to keep my blog posts short so no examples this time!

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