Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On writing effective dialog:
Consider the following bit of dialog:  “I’m going to have a baby!” Lisa expostulated excitedly.  
Can you spot three things wrong here?  They are:
1. Don’t say “he grunted” or “she wailed” or “he decried” or “she laughed” when ascribing dialog to characters. (Nobody laughs and talks at the same time.)  Almost never use anything but “he said” or “she said,” even when characters are asking questions.  Readers will not tire of you doing so.  They don’t even consciously see the “she saids” and “he saids,” just as they aren’t conscious of most punctuation.  All they want is to be sure of who’s speaking.  For a good dialog lesson, study the late Elmore Leonard’s work, wherein dialog is spare to the extreme, mimicking the way people actually speak, and the story never fails to be riveting.
2.  Generally shun adverbs (those words ending in ly) and don’t use too many adjectives (one of my major addictions I have to fight constantly).  An adverb is a “tell” word, and you should always be showing the story to the reader, instead.  Show Lisa to be excited, maybe by her nervous mannerisms or her flushed complexion.
      3.  I never use the exclamation point, and many top writers don’t either.  I consider it a punctuational adverb that's much over-used in e-mail exchanges.
As always, please feel free to disagree.  And let me know your own tips for writing effective dialog.

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