Half Way to Query and 3 Lessons on Dialogue

It’s happening, folks. I have a document titled “Full Draft” and HALF of my novel is in it. HALF. I still have a lot of work to do and some serious scenes to write before I finish up, but it’s happening. I have nine weeks until Scarlett is due and my novel WILL be done before she arrives!

I have been working on some serious edits and have composed some new chapters that needed to connect plot points together and I’m pleased with how the story is turning out. One thing in particular that I have shown little mercy on is the dialogue in my draft. Rough drafts are meant to be rough, but my dialogue was ROUGH. After reading a few novels, I made some notes on techniques author had used in moving plot through conversation or the description of conversation and I have been employing those techniques throughout my work.

Another thing that might interest you is this great article from LitReactor (I’ve mentioned this site several times because it’s fantastic). An article by Robbie Blair called “6 Ways You’re Botching Your Dialogue” has been a wonderful guideline as I sift through my characters’ conversations. Check it out! If you’d prefer to see specific examples from the greats, check out Meredith Borders’ Ten Authors Who Write Great Dialogue (also from LitReactor).

From articles around the web and my own reading, I have found three things that have upped my dialogue game:

  1. Backpedal, allude, sidetrack, shy away: One of the things that I found was that my dialogue was far too direct. We want characters to be believable so their conversations with other characters need to be real. In real life, we don’t come out and say exactly what’s on our mind with perfect meaning, in sequential order, and without regard to the person we are speaking to or the events surrounding the conversation. No, in real life we sugarcoat and backpedal and pause and struggle to say what we mean. There is miscommunication. There is emotional flux that changes our relationships and perceptions. Dialogue in real life is messy and it should be that way in our stories.
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  2. Reveal character not story. Readers don’t need a play by play through dialogue. The exposition of your story shouldn’t be discussed. I found myself doing this in my initial draft as more a marker for what I needed to do in the story with a note to myself that says, “Hey. This should be clear already. This character shouldn’t have to say this.” It’s okay to get the story down on paper, but if your characters are merely telling main events, revise. As a reader, dialogue as exposition comes off like the writer is dumbing down the story and doesn’t trust the reader enough to get it. Your reader has read things before. They don’t need everything spoon fed to them. I feel that dialogue should reveal more about who is speaking than what they are speaking about.
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  3. Break it up. Don’t let your reader space out in the middle of a your characters’ conversation! You shouldn’t have pages upon pages of dialogue. You want to add in gestures, body language, facial expressions, sure. But what is happening around them? What is the conversation doing to the narrator? Step inside their head and back out to their surroundings a few times. Pretend you’re in the conversation. When you talk to someone, you aren’t immune to thought connections and distractions around you so your character shouldn’t be either.
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So how did these lessons impact my novel? See for yourself. Here is a small excerpt of what I’m working on:

“I don’t get why they like that [paddle boating] so much.” Tara plops down on the swing, cracking the tab.

“It’s relaxing,” I defend, taking the seat next to her.

“Oh, okay. Let’s see you go out there and paddle, then. I’m sure baking in the sun is just where you want to be after working outside in it all day.”

“You’re right. Nothing beats a swing under a tree.” We push off the ground. I notice her bare feet and red toenail polish digging in the dirt. I snicker. “Yeah, you’re a real city girl with those dirty feet.” She glares at me, but says nothing, preferring to drink her beer than continue the banter. “You know, when I first put this swing up, your feet barely hung off this ridge.” She smiled and laid her head on my shoulder.

“We’ve done a lot of swaying here. Haven’t we Poppy?” I nodded and gulped the last swig.

“We sure have, Boog.”

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