Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Dialogue is a vital part of every manuscript, and it deserves its own spot on my self-editing checklist -- Point Number 10, to be exact. (For Points 1-9, click here.)
When analyzing your dialogue, ask yourself the following questions.
1) Do I have the right amount of dialogue on each page? Or you could ask it this way: Do I have several pages with no dialogue? If so, that's a good indication that you need to have your characters interact with each other more. In fact, I like to try and have at least one dialogue run per scene if possible. A dialogue run is a phrase I learned from Margie Lawson (Have I mentioned yet that she's brilliant?). It describes a section of dialogue that is mostly unhindered by dialogue tags or physical actions. Interspersed dialogue runs keep the pace moving.
2) Does the dialogue fit each character? Remember how we talked in our characterization post about how each character should have unique personality traits, etc.? That same uniqueness should come out in how they speak, how they put their words together.
4) Do my dialogue descriptions enhance or distract? By descriptions, this can include "he said" or it can include physical actions that precede or follow the dialogue. Finding just the right balance is key. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has really good advice on this topic, as does The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.
5) Does my dialogue sound natural? To really be sure on this, you'll want to read it aloud. We want our characters to sound like actual people rather than robots (unless you're writing a sci-fi story that involves robots taking over the planet).
Your homework for the next two weeks, should you choose to accept it: Work through these questions and analyze your dialogue. Check out the resources and links I've provided. And for some general dialogue-improving exercises, check out this excellent post.
So how about you? Do you find yourself erring on the side of too much dialogue or not enough? How do you ensure your characters all sound unique?
(If you have an extra minute, feel free to drop by my personal blog today. I'm joining the ACFW Conference blog tour with a goofy post titled "Top 5 Things to Avoid Telling Editors and Agents at Conferences".)
*Talking photo by photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
**Elephant photo by Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net