Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dialogue: Don't Overthink It

Dialogue is one part of writing a novel for which overthinking is the death-knell. Overthinking leads to wooden, unnatural conversations on the page. It's okay if See Spot Run statements are a trait of one character. It's not okay when everybody converses that way. Same goes for impeccable grammar; most natural speech is not flawless speech.

Dialogue tags, on the other hand, should be carefully considered, reviewed, and reconsidered. Tag with action when possible. Never let more than two statements pass without indicating who is speaking. Don't be afraid of the simple "said." Use adverbs to signify sarcasm.

There's also such a thing as too much dialogue in a scene. It's opposite, too little dialogue, is also out there. Where's the balance? Depends on your story. Depends on what's happening in the scene. There is no hard-fast rule for "the right amount of dialogue."  As with most Rules of Writing, the point is to be aware. Aka, look for the balance during editing rounds.

The trickiest bit of writing dialogue is trying to convey tones, manners, and beliefs unique to the individual character. During bouts of editing (not drafting...don't overthink drafting either, it'll cripple you), "he wouldn't say that," "she wouldn't say it like that," "he'd never be so direct," or "she would never soften the blow," these are all character-determined things your editor-brain should see, note, judge, and fix if necessary.

Monkey said, what?

Here are three examples from two stories on which I am working. One story is a Second World/High Fantasy. The other is a Contemporary/Urban Fantasy. Can you tell which bit of dialogue belongs with which book? Are they all from the same book, spoken by different characters? Or, same book, same character? Eh, eh? Tricksie. Tricksie, I am; I am.

A) “These days, if we need a bulk burn we task fire-breathers to our team.” She examined the vial under the light. “Securing the scene was on me. The guys with guns out there were my guys. My team.”


B) “Souls look nothing like the bodies they inhabited whilst living.” she shook her head. “Additionally, without a contract struck between Rosmar and me while she was living—even if her soul still lingered—I would not be able to learn what she knows.”


C) “You have armies of minions possessing any number of magics. Why free me? Disinformation isn’t my specialty.” She took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders. For the first time in years, her insides didn’t writhe with a billion toxic maggots feasting on her.


Go ahead, give me your best guess in the comments!

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