Writing Tips & Tools

Monday, November 07, 2011

Lesson #13 - Dialogue Mechanics con't

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we are continuing editing lessons from the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

These lessons will be shortened overviews of the chapters and by no means should be a substitute for buying the book. I'm rereading but not posting a lot of good stuff!

Let's continue. Today we'll be working on Dialogue Mechanics.

A quick review of yesterday reveals that if you're like most beginning writers, you write sentences like, "You can't be serious," she said in astonishment.

And you probably write them 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 time and trouble!

It's also lazy writing. When your dialogue is well written, describing your characters' emotions to your readers is just as patronizing as a playwright running onto the stage and explaining things to the audience!

If your dialogue isn't well written--if it needs the explanation to convey the emotion--then the explanation really won't help.

Perhaps it's a lack of confidence on the writer's part, perhaps it's simple laziness, or perhaps it's a misguided attempt to break up the monotony of using the unadorned said all the time, but all too many fiction writers tend to pepper their dialogue with -ly's.

Which is a good enough reason to cut virtually every one you write.

Ly adverbs almost always catch the writer in the act of explaining dialogue--smuggling emotions into speaker attributions that belong in the dialogue itself. Again, if your dialogue doesn't need the props, putting the props in will make it seem weak even when it isn't.

There are a few exceptions to this principle, and almost all of them are adverbs that actually modify the verb said, such as "he said softly" or "she said clearly."

To be continued...


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