January 21, 2020
The kiss of death in writing is to bore the reader. Once they start to skim over your prose, it’s only a matter of time before they put the book down. To keep your reader engaged, you have to make them care about your characters and have them eager to find out what happens next. Dialogue is a great way to do that, but don’t fall prey to common dialogue mistakes.
1. Cut out unnecessary words and avoid documenting the entire greeting process when two people meet.
This is a boring exchange:
“Hi Jennifer, how have you been?”
“Sarah, it’s been awhile. Things are good. You know, same ole, same ole. How’s your Mama?”
“She’s fine. Still has the gout.”
Start the conversation closer to the point of the scene. For example:
“Sarah, you have to give this miracle cream a try. It could save your mother’s life.”
“Miracles don’t exist,” Sarah scoffed at Jennifer, but hope fluttered in her stomach.
In the second example, you get a little more of the plot and a feel for the two characters. The
dialogue served its purpose. You get a sense of urgency in what Jennifer is saying and that Sarah doesn’t believe the cream will work, but at the same time the reader is feeling the same hope that Sarah is. What if it does work?
2. Embrace the banter. Short back and forth exchanges feed off each other and make for compelling and witty dialogue.
Movies and plays are excellent places to study this in action in order to develop an ear for quips and sassy back and forth dialogue. You can use this for tension, comic relief, or to show a battle of wits between two characters. Quentin Tarantino is a master at this—albeit very profane. This snippet is from the movie Kill Bill, Volume One. The pacing of the dialogue is almost musical.
Hattori Hanzo: [in Japanese] What do you want with Hattori Hanzo?
The Bride: [in Japanese] I need Japanese steel.
Hattori Hanzo: [in Japanese] Why do you need Japanese steel?
The Bride: [in Japanese] I have vermin to kill.
Hattori Hanzo: [in English] You must have big rats if you need Hattori Hanzo's steel.
The Bride: [in English] Huge.
And you can even go old school with William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. This example is from Act 1, Scene 1 where they are insulting each other back and forth.
Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick. Nobody marks you.
Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible Disdain should die when she hath such meet food to feed it as
Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.
And once they admit their love in Act 4, Scene 1, there is still doubt and conflict in their words.
Benedick: By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me.
Beatrice: Do not swear, and eat it.
Benedick: I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you.
Beatrice: Will you not eat your word?
Benedick: With no sauce that can be devised to it. I protest I love thee.
Beatrice: Why then, God forgive me.
Benedick: What offense, sweet Beatrice?
Beatrice: You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I loved you.
Benedick: And do it with all thy heart.
Beatrice: I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.
Benedick: Come, bid me do anything for thee.
Beatrice: Kill Claudio.
Benedick: Ha! Not for the wide world.
Beatrice: You kill me to deny it. Farewell.
3. Don’t be so proper. In conversation, people skip words and use contractions.
It’s even okay to *gasp* use improper grammar—as long as it’s in dialogue. Example:
“You ain’t from around here are ya?”
4. Don’t overdo dialect though. A little goes a long way.
If a character speaks in a Scottish accent, it’s exhausting to read every line of dialogue that reads like, “Och, dinna ye ken?” Limit this type of thing to just a few lines scattered throughout the work. It’s perfectly fine to have the dialogue read as normal speech and then comment, “He spoke in a thick brogue and I had to concentrate to understand him.”
Your dialogue can’t just exist as a place holder. It has to move the plot along, show character development or entertain the reader. If it doesn’t do at least one of those things, delete it. Bonus points if it does all three.
K.M. Weiland – An Insanely Simple Trick for Tightening Dialogue
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes erotic contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #65 on USA Today, #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists. The first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time, and is a #1 Amazon bestseller. Her book Stud is a 2018 Romance Writers of America Rita® Finalist in Erotica. Her dragon paranormal romance series has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.” Partnered with New York Times bestselling author and actress, Jenna Jameson, Jamie’s hardcover debut, SPICE, continues Jenna’s FATE trilogy.
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