Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - #4 Tighten Dialogue

Moving on down our list, today's entry is Tighten Dialogue.

Now, we're not going to do a whole, big dialogue entry today. Book's have been written on that; listening to how people speak, making sure each character has their own voice, etc. We're in revision mode remember. (By the way, I'm up to chapter 11 now. Had a great day yesterday. Plenty of time to write and got a lot of work done. Good work. You know the kind; when you finish you really feel like you accomplished something).

Back to the post. Tighten Dialogue.

To me, this means two things.

1) No direct answers. We do it all the time in our writing. Bill asks, "Did you see the paper yet?" and his boss replies, "No. Not yet." Technically, there's nothing wrong here, but it doesn't do anything either. To tighten dialogue, add tension and reveal character, try never to have your character answer a question directly. In real life, we rarely do. We're always to busy thinking about our own stuff to answer someone's question directly.

So how about if we change the above to:
"Did you see the paper yet?"
"That's what I pay you for."

Now we've got something. Bill's boss is revealing character here, impatience, domination, directness. How Bill responds can now really move the scene forward.

No direct answers.

2) Keep it short. Find the beat. Rarely, if ever have one character speak for more than three sentences. In real life, we can rarely get three sentences out (if we had that much to say) before the other person interrupts us with their own thoughts, a question, a burp, whatever.

Keep it short.

That's how I'm tightening my dialogue.


Meghna said...

Hi Todd,
In this part, you've explained beautifully how to express dialogue in a proper way. I agree that revealing a character by using simple dialogue improves the quality of writing. You've elaborated with example how not to have your character answer a question directly, which are worth following. Great post (and series). Thank you for sharing!

Emma said...

Thanks so much for sharing your advice and inner workings on writing. It's really generous of you not to mention invaluable.
I'm on the umpteenth revision of my novel (five years in the making), and this time it's final. I had hit a bit of an impasse but reading your postings has got me back on track, so a million thanks!

Todd D. Severin said...

Emma and Meghna,

Thanks both for your kind words. The goal of the blog is to help keep all of us in line on that revision that keeps on going and going.

Good luck with your writing. I'll try to get back to mine.