Last week, we discussed some basic ways to avoid wordiness in our writing. If you’d like to check out specific examples or that post, click here. This week, we’re moving onto dialogue. There is perhaps nothing we complicate more and yet dialogue doesn’t have to be messy for writers.
Here’s some basic rules:
#1: Never teach lessons in dialogue. This is when a character lectures another to get across a point your drawing at in your writing. Not only is this unnecessary, but it flattens the words on the page. Instead, let the lesson or theme derive naturally from the plot.
#2: Avoid using character names. This is huge and so easy for us to do! In the real world when we speak, we don’t end statements with names.
“I need you to empty the dishwasher.”
How unnatural that sounds! See, the speaker already knows the listener is addressing her. In the real world, it’s often unnecessary to drop name tags at the end of statements. The same is true in fiction. In order to avoid the Leave it to Beaver syndrome, we must show our reader who is speaking without making our dialogue awkward. So realistically, we would either previously make the speaker evident or we could add a tag (a short description outside of the dialogue) using action to embellish the character on the page.
#3: Never have characters telling each other things. What do I mean? Well, great writers avoid the “you know” syndrome. This is when a character explains something just to make the reader aware, when in reality the other character would already know the information. We avoid this as writers, because it takes our reader outside the characters’ heads. Dialogue should always deepen the POV.
#4: Lighten up the accents. Use unique words over re-spellings to build accents into your dialogue. A little goes a long way. If you choose to give a character an accent, the reader often will hear it without the need for you to phonetically re-spell each word. Don’t make the reader’s job difficult. If they can’t read the dialogue with ease, they won’t want to continue reading. So enjoy accents with just a sprinkle. If the dialect seems overdone to you, it probably will feel burdensome to the reader.
Hopefully, these edits will get you started on the right foot this week! If you have any additional tips on dialogue, leave them in the comments below. Have a wonderful Monday, friends!