A Diet for Dynamic Dialogue

Great quotes can live for generations. By having Scrooge respond to Christmas cheer with “Bah, humbug,” Charles Dickens captured the old man in two words.

Enriched dialogue
Dialogue economically:

  1. Moves the story. “The choice is yours.” Make the reader wonder what your character will decide.
  2. Reveals an important plot turn. “Did you know she resigned today?” A single sentence provides a crucial plot point without creating an entire scene.
  3. Gives an important character clue. “That will be my last conscious act.”
  4. Gives the character a unique voice. “I know hurryin’ is against your nature, but you might want to pick up the pace before that storm rolls in.” Word choice shows whether a character is educated—gives clues to the region he is from, and reveals his nature (relaxed, tightly wound, confident).

Put dialogue on a diet
Beware of normal pleasantries and flabby words such as: Hello, Good-bye, Oh well. Cut or summarize them (“After greeting each other, Jim said…”) and see how much better the conversation flows.

Looking good
Dialogue should give the illusion of reality, without the annoying quirks of real speech like um, er, ah, and repetition.

For example: She helped him up. “Are you okay?”

He rubbed the goose egg on the back of his head. “Where’s the phone?”

If the character had answered, “Yeah, well, I think so,” it may be realistic, but it would slow the scene. From the action, we know the hero has a painful noggin, but because he ignores the pain, the reader sees he is focused on what is more important.

PeggySue Wells is a speaker and the author of a dozen books including What To Do When You’re Scared To Death, and Rediscovering Your Happily Ever After. Contact her at www.peggysue-wells.com.

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