Monday, September 9, 2013


 “Stop describing every little thing.  I get it.  I do have a voice and the reader has an imagination,” the character said.
“Well, that’s rude. I just wanted you to feel the hot, dry, skin-cracking, desert air.”  The writer clenched her teeth and swallowed hard.
The character shook her head.  “I get it, but why don’t I just say, ‘This desert air is killing me.  Look, my lips are bleeding.’ Dialog is active and involves the reader. It falls in that overused line, ‘show - don’t tell.’

Okay – so you get my point, right?  Don’t you just hate reading paragraph after paragraph of description or information?  If you’re like me you start skimming until you find dialog.  That should never happen. 

Let’s face it – a story is all about interaction – which is dialog.  And if you’re honest, you know when you’ve gone on too long with descriptions, flashbacks, or even thoughts.  Dialog is the action maker.  Dialog keeps us connected with the characters.  Dialog reveals personality and exposes what is going on around him/her without author intrusion.

We can feel our story slow down when there isn’t enough dialog.  Your story should flow with a consistent amount of thoughts or descriptions.  Long paragraphs of filler creates a great place for the reader to ‘stop’ reading.  Boy – you don’t want that.

Use ‘dialog’ to describe a scene, rather than narrative to describe it.  Every chance you get – use dialog.  Don’t tell how angry your character is – show how angry he/she is with dialog. 
Do the same with happy, sad, scared, depressed, etc.  Use dialog as your shining light – leading the reader down the dark hall, revealing what’s ahead with each step and each word.

I went to a RWA conference many years ago and an actress shared with us how she works out a scene by physically going through the actions before writing the scene.  Once you feel the actual action, use dialog to share what you experienced and the scene will come alive.  Let’s compare for a minute -

            Lily stepped into the crime scene noticed her partner nearly vomited.  She took the scene in.  It wasn’t a pretty sight. The small bathroom appeared to have been painted in blood.  The naked victim lay in the dry shower.  It was impossible to count how many times he’d been stabbed. He’d been shot in the head once. It had to be a crime of passion.
            “It’s going to be one of those days, Jordan,” she said, moving toward the victim.

Let’s rewrite this scene – using dialog to learn what’s going on.
            Jordan stepped beside her, a cloth to his mouth.  Lilly gave her partner a stern glance and shook her head.  “Damn, what do we have here?”
            “A stinking mess, if you ask me.” He cleared his throat and swallowed hard.
            “What are you trying to tell us, Lance Johnson?” She inched toward the naked victim lying on the dry shower base.  “I’d say the doer used that towel and smeared the victim’s blood on all four walls. Why?”
            “You asking me?  Hell, I don’t know.  Killer is making a statement.”
            “I agree, but what is that statement?  He means nothing.  Maybe he smeared someone’s name, demeaning them.  This is payback.”
            “Could be.  Head shot looks after-the-fact.”
            “I noticed there wasn’t any blood near the wound, I agree.  Another reason it’s a crime of passion.  I’d say the killer’s a woman.”
            “Doesn’t look like a woman’s MO.”
            “Normally I’d agree, but this one reads a woman scorned.”
Nothing – absolutely nothing can replace dialog.  It’s better to share information in dialog than in the character’s thoughts.  But, don’t get caught up creating short back-and-forth exchanges.  If your dialog doesn’t advance the story – you’re stalling. Don’t do the;
            “Good morning, Jana.”
            “Good morning, Sue.”
            “Have a great day.”
            Sue smiled.  “You have a great day, too.”

Boring for sure.  It doesn’t add anything to the scene or the situation.  Of course had you written something like this – it changes everything.

            “Good morning, Jana.”
            “What the hell’s good about it?  Johnson just fired me.”
            “No possible way.  Did you tell him you were being harassed?” Sue leaned over and hugged her friend.
            “He didn’t believe me.  Said either I could forget about the whole damn thing or I was fired.”

Tomorrow – let’s discuss how silence give dialog a breather and other tips on writing good dialog.

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