Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Dialogue
I used this resource a while back to talk about Point of View. Because point-of-view is something a lot of writers struggle with. I know I did.
But there’s so much more to this book. I’m going to focus on dialogue, because that’s another area where beginning writers turn potential editors and agents off. Now, I’m not an expert, I’m just sharing this resource with you. And I learn from it as I share it with you.
From pg. 83-84 “Imagine you’re at a play. It’s the middle of the first act; you’re getting really involved in the drama they’re acting out. Suddenly the playwright runs out on the stage and yells, ‘Do you see what’s happening here? Do you see how her coldness is behind his infidelity? Have you noticed the way is womanizing has undermined her confidence? Do you get it?’
“You get it, of course, and you feel patronized. You’re an intelligent theatergoer, and what’s happening on the stage is clear enough. You don’t need the writer to explain it to you.
“This is exactly what happens when you explain your dialogue to your readers. Consider the following:
“You can’t be serious,” she said in astonishment.”
The writers go on to say, “If you’re like most beginning novelists or short-story writers, you write sentences like these almost without thinking. What could be easier than simply to tell your readers how a character feels? If she is astonished, you just say so. It saves all sorts of time and trouble.”
The authors continue. “It’s also lazy writing.” OMG! Are we writers lazy? It sounds like it when we tell, not show. I’ve been guilty of this myself, so it’s something I look for when I run through my writing again and again before I submit it anywhere for consideration, even before I had a professional edit it.
Another way of saying this is: Resist the Urge to Explain. (RUE). I’ve been through two of Jerry Jenkins’ Thick-Skinned Critiques. I’ve evidently did not RUE, and he called me on it. It’s author intrusion, like we saw with playwright running out on stage during the performance.
Other tips from this chapter:
If you’re going to use dialogue tags, such as said, snapped, chuckled, demanded, etc. the authors say to use “said” rather than the others. Here’s an example from pg. 89.
“Give it to me,” she demanded.
“Here it is,” he offered.
“Is it loaded?” she inquired.
Or even worse:
“I hate to admit that,” he grimaced.
“Come closer,” she smiled.
“So you’ve changed your mind,” he chuckled.
“To use verbs like these last three for speaker attributions is to brand yourself as an amateur – and to stick your character with an action that is physically impossible. No one outside of hack fiction has ever been able to grimace or smile or chuckle a sentence.”
There’s a great checklist for dialogue at the end of the chapter. Included are some of these things to look for:
- Adverbs – verbs that end in ‘ly’
- Speaker attributions
- Grammar, such as ellipses for gaps, dashes for interruptions
- Paragraphing – meaning a new speaker, new paragraph
I actually prefer not to use speaker attributions. I’ll use dialogue, then insert a body language or POV feelings. But yeah, I’ve done this. Wow and eek. I know I’ve been guilty of it. How about you? Leave a comment and let me know.