I love writing dialogue. It’s the best way to make characters come alive. When writing, I know I’m going to go overboard with the nattering. It’s more of an issue when you have several view point characters, like I do, each with their own backstories and motivations.
Anyway, that’s what the rewrite is for – pruning down all of that excess. But when you enjoy writing dialogue so much, how can you look back at what you’ve written and distinguish what has to stay, from what must go.
For me, the best way is to go through every sentence of speech and ensure that it has a function. I’d argue that a sentence of dialogue needs to do one of more of the following:
1. Advance the plot: each sentence should act as a stepping stone to the next scene.
2. Provide the reader with more information: but within active speech – such as showing the reader that the character doesn’t know what’s happening to them rather than rather than telling, by putting a “he said, not sure what was happening” after the dialogue.
3. Showcase the characters personality: are they aggressive or passive? Introverted or outgoing? Are they in a rush, or giving a Bond villain monologue?
4. Display conflict: conversation between two people that rub along perfectly is dull. Maybe these conversations can be covered as part of the narrative instead.
It’s at this point that it’s brought home to me, again, just how much work a rewrite is. It’s not just sitting down and making it better, but almost tearing the novel down and rebuilding it line-by-line.
As I’m rewriting draft one of my first book, not only written during the haze of NaNoWriMo, but written almost 10 years ago (!), I realise that there could be some pretty shaky stuff in there. So I need to watch out for the following warning signs.
- Using dialogue tags such as “he exclaimed” or “she flounced” rather than “he said” / “she said”.
- I’m much more likely to drop tags altogether – which may not be a problem if there are only two people in the scene. I need to make sure that my characters are easily identifiable.
- Repeating what happened in the narrative. If you wrote about what Dave did that morning, he doesn’t need to repeat it all to Steve when he sees him.
- Adverbs. There should be no need to use phrases like, “she cried angrily”. If you delete the adverb and the dialogue doesn’t convey that she is raging then the text needs to be more powerful.
Does anyone have any other tips or tricks when it comes to dialogue?