Monday, July 3, 2017

The Things We Say

A popular post from April 2008

by Julie Wight
Everyone says writing should mirror real life, I am here to say, okay. But not mirror exactly. It has to resemble real life, but you don’t want an exact replica. Alfred Hitchcock once said that a good story was: "life, with the dull parts taken out."

Keep this in mind when revising dialogue. Think of two teenagers having a conversation “Did you hear about Jane?”
“Oh I know. What a sitch huh?”
“Yeah, crazy.”

We have no idea what these girls just said. Teenagers speak in tongues sometimes, and readers, even teenage readers aren’t going to put up with pages of this circular sort of dialogue. You do not want to mimic this language unless you’re intentionally mocking it.

Something else to avoid is sounding stiff and stilted in your writing with dialogue. People don’t speak properly when talking to one another. They slur their words together. We don’t say “you will.” We say “you’ll.” In conversations, there are umm’s and errrr’s, and while now and again that works perfect in dialogue, if you do it too much your readers are going to skip whole passages to try to get back into the meat of your story or worse, they’ll put your book down.

Be careful with your dialogue. Mimic reality while making sure to shave out the unnecessary.

Don’t info dump in dialogue. I’ve seen it happen where someone will have two characters having a conversation for the sole purpose of cluing in the reader. It goes something like this, “As you know, Bob, the facility was shut down due to an outbreak of purple spots.”

Here we have two issues. First, in reality we don’t use names all the time.
“Mary would you like some cake?”
“Why Yes, Joe. I’d love some cake.”
“I thought you might, Mary.”

Does that sound like a normal conversation? Not a chance.

Second issue with the first example. Bob already knows the facility was shut down due to the purple spots epidemic so they wouldn’t really be having this conversation. Do not use dialogue to info dump.

Some really fast tips are:
Dialogue tags--Do not veer too far away from he said/she said. If you are always adding clever replacements, they call attention to themselves. He cried . . . She spouted . . . They queried . . . He growled . . . She stuttered.

Using he said or she said is invisible to the reader. The others draw attention to themselves in a negative way.

On the same lines be careful about adverb usage. He said excitedly, she said dejectedly, he cried angrily, she whispered sexily. That gets really irritating really fast. It looks amateurish and you will be embarrassed if your book ever makes it to print (trust me on this one).

Weave conversation naturally with action and a dash of exposition (remember, I said DASH!). Break up the dialogue with action and internal thought.
An example:

“I came to say I’m sorry.” He bent down and rubbed his hands in the dirt
for a minute to clean them off. Hap preferred dirt to tomatoes any

She turned to him, her pulsating hazel eyes glowered. If she’d had the
superpower of heat vision, he’d have been nothing but a pile of ash. “What
exactly are you sorry for?” she asked.

What? Was this a quiz? Wasn’t it enough to apologize without having to
consider the details? He shrugged. It was the best answer he had. The fewer
words, the faster he could get back and figure what Tolvan meant by an’ icy

“I’m asking,” she said, while climbing down from the boulder. “I’m asking
because I want to know if you’re sorry for making fun of my magic trick, or for
my application qualifications, or if you’re sorry you made me look stupid in
front of your grandfather, who might have given me a job if you hadn’t been
there slapping buzzers on my hand.”

Hap blinked and scratched his hand through his hair. “Um . . . I’m sorry
for all that.” He almost said he was only sorry for the buzzer, but felt pretty
certain she expected him to be sorry for all of the above. Girls were funny that way.

By breaking up the dialogue, you create a scene that moves along.

Think about the things you say and the things you hold back. Think about emotions involved in your situations so your dialogue can reflect those emotions. Our conversations reveal so much about us. Make your conversations reveal your characters.

In summary:
  • Don't info dump
  • don't get repetitious with name usage
  • use adverbs sparingly
  • use said instead of clever dialogue tag replacements.
  • utilize action and internal thought along with your dialogue to break it up and make it flow.