When I edit my dialogue, there are a couple easy things that I check.
First- greetings and farewells. Hellos and goodbyes rarely add to character development or plot. They drag down the writing and mess with the rhythms. Readers are smart. They know that if you answer a phone or the door or run into someone on the street, you probably said hello. Skip it and move on.
Second- beating around the bush. Let your character jump to conclusions. We figure things out long before the person we’re talking to says what they’re thinking. If someone has something “important” to tell us, we probably have a pretty good idea what it is. And while in real life we might let the conversation drag on, it’s miserable to read. So skip all the polite small talk and gradual lead-ins. Have your character guess what will be said before the other person says it. Not only does it cut down on word counts, it adds tension.
What have you found are other quick fixes for dialogue?
An interesting writing experiment: Some years ago, I was challenged to come up with 3 separate and disparate memories.
1st memory: a black 2-foot plaster statue of a young girl my mother had purchased— thinking it looked like me as a teenager with a long pony tail. Later, she gave it to me, but then died at age 63, when I was only 27. Moving from one apartment to another, the base was broken off and she had a chip in her elbow; I had no heart to throw her away. Stored in a boxes for several years, in multiple homes, I found her under the Christmas tree one year when my husband and then teen-aged son had recast the base and repainted her to look like new.
2nd memory: I woke up one winter morning with the sun glowing gold, casting its color throughout my bedroom. We’d had no snow that year, but the weather had been foggy and quite cold. I pulled on some clothes and ran outside to see all the trees up and down our circle painted with sparkling fairy dust — the “fog” frozen on limbs, bushes, even parked cars all of which glowed golden as the sun rose.
3rd memory: In the old ZCMI uptown in Salt Lake, I walked past the Tiffin Room, a nice, well-appointed dining area, with models showing off the store’s wares on Tuesday luncheons. Suddenly, a shaft of sunlight poured through a skylight, illuminating a woman who sat at the head of a table with several other women. The light awakened her silvery-gray hair, which crouched over her otherwise brown locks, and my breath caught in my throat: she looked like sister to a beloved cousin of my father’s, and my own mother’s dear friend, even down to the two-toned hair. Both she and my mother had been gone for years.
The rest of the assignment: group the three memories together into one piece. In my case, I wrote an only slightly exaggerated or fictionalized version into a narrative non-fiction piece. It could have been a fairy tale, part of a current WIP, a news article, or whatever. Try it: Three short memories; then bound together in a single piece. You might find Magic!
PLEASE post here if you come up with something wonderful.
A Few Important Questions to Ask Yourself if You aren’t Writing
1. What stands in your way?
2. What are you afraid of?
3. Do you really want to publish?
There are always excuses if you want to write–even the “I have a full-time job” excuse. But if you really want to write, you’ll make the time. Give yourself 30 minutes a day. At the end of the year you will have written almost 11,000 minutes.
Writing is scary. It’s hard. But the reward, the finished product, the great line–those can all be worth what you put into it. Look fear in the face and just write. Or, let those stories hound you until they finally fade away or, possibly, drive you crazy.
I meet people who are always waiting for the tight moment to write. Unless writing is a paid, full-time job for you, there’s hardly a right time. If you really want to publish, write.