How to Spice up Your Writing with Dialogue
Judy Cullins c. 2007
Does your chapter sound like a report? Does it go on and on with past tense sentences that tell, rather than show?
To spice up your self help, non-fiction or fiction book and even promotional writing, you need to use much more dialogue.
Why? Because dialogue presents your story through your characters' hearts and minds. A story engages your reader rather than bore him with too much telling. Know that present tense ( I see) writing is far more powerful and readable than past tense ( I saw) and the wicked past perfect (I have seen). Yes, use some past tense narrative to tell, but keep it down. Discover how dialogues will juice up each chapter and hook your readers to keep going.
If your aim your book at agents and publishers, the
first action acquisition editors make is to find a section of dialogue. If it is good, they start reading the rest of your book.
It is difficult to put just the right words into dialogue--to convey character and emotion. Avoid props or tricks to be professional.
If not, forget it. If you self-publish take heed also, because you want to make your book sell in each chapter.
1. Don't explain your dialogue. "You can't be serious, she said in astonishment." This dialogue patronizes the reader. As a bookcoach I call it lazy writing that undermines the reader involvement. You don't want the reader to know the fact; you want her to feel the emotion.
So, show how astonished through dialogue or beat. (more on beats later) "She dropped the whisk, spattering meringue up the cupboard door. "You can't be serious" or You've got to be kidding" --two examples of different characters. Readers learn about them through the dialogue. When you tell, your characters don't come to life.
2. Don't explain the content of the dialogue. Stop using -ly verbs such as "I'm afraid it's not going well," he said grimly." This bit explains and is condescending. Grimness can come across by what you say and do--word choice, body language, and context rather than by how you say it. Avoid those telling adverbs that end in -ly. Take out all forms of "suddenly" out of you writing.
Examples: Percy burst into the zoo keeper's office. Their callous mistreatment was killing the wombats and she wasn't going to stand for it.
"Is something wrong, sir?" the zoo keeper said.
"Don't you realize you're killing those poor innocent creatures, you heartless fascist? Percy yelled.
3. Don't repeat unnecessary information.
You have heard about show, don't tell and all -ly forms tell. .
Condescending example: "I'm afraid it's not going very well, "he said grimly. "Keep scrubbing until you're are finished," she said harshly.
"I don't know, I can't seem to work up the steam to do anything at all," he said listlessly.
4. Don't open dialogue with speaker attributions.
Writers use them only to show who is talking when more than three characters are in the scene. Open with the dialogue. Place speaker attribution at the first natural break.
Instead of Vera said, "…." Use this: "I don't know, he said, "I've always felt plungers were underrated as kitchen tools.
5.. Use the verb "said" almost without exception. Don't strive for variety like past teachers have suggested. Notice the bad examples ahead, and avoid them.
"Give it to me," she demanded.
"Here it is," he offered.
"Is it loaded?" she inquired.
"I hate to admit that," he grimaced.
"Come closer," she smiled.
"So you've changed your mind" he chuckled.
Choose "said" above all other tags. Professional use "said" because it doesn't draw attention--a kind of comma. Not noticed, so the writing flows along like smooth jazz.
Remember, verbs other than "said" tend to draw attention away from the dialogue. They jump out as mechanics. "Said" is more like a punctuation mark--it is graceful and elegant.
6. Refer to your character by only one name in each scene. For example, avoid Hubert said, then Mr. Winchell said, then the old man said. Readers may have a tough time figuring it out. You can use different names in later chapters.
7.. Try a beat if you are troubled with saids. For example, "I'd never thought of that before." Roger walked over to the fridge and helped himself to a soda "But I suppose a good coat of shellac really would work just as well, wouldn't it?"
Beats are good for more than two persons. They break the monotony of too many saids.
8. use dashes--, not ellipses...for interruptions. Ellipses (...) indicate a trailing off--to show gaps in dialogue such as with a telephone call.
Know that your writing misses the mark to engage your readers when you only tell them what you know. Instead, incorporate dialogue in each chapter to enliven it. Lively writing engages your reader continuously.
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Book and Internet Marketing Coach, Judy Cullins, can help you build credibility and clients, sell a lot of books, and make maximum profits. Author of 11 books including Write your eBook or Other Short Book Fast and The Fast and Cheap Way to Explode Targeted Web Traffic" Get her free eBook"20 High Octane Book Writing and Marketing Tips" and two free monthly ezines at http://www.bookcoaching.com