Dialog is one of the most challenging things for writers to get “right,” mainly because “right” is a moving target. Dialog can, after all, accomplish a task—exposition, say—and yet be a Fail because it sounds unnatural, or feels forced, or obviously exists solely to convey information and not as something that real people would actually engage in.

Sometimes even if you’re relatively comfortable writing dialog you get into trouble because your characters only speak when they’re conveying information. This is an easy trap to fall into because it feels concise and efficient, when in fact it’s weird because people love to chatter. Anyone who has ever tried to avoid conversation in an office setting, or when walking home through their neighborhood, knows just ho much people like to chat. No matter how good you are at dialog, if your characters only ever talk about Plot Things, it’s going to be a little uncanny for your readers.

One solution to this is to imagine you’re listening in on your characters chatting while they’re getting to the next scene.

Don’t Skip, Delete

The whole “skip the boring parts” writing advice is excellent stuff, but it’s often more useful to go back and delete the boring parts instead of skipping them in the first place. For example, writing the entire twenty-block car drive that your characters engage in between chapters 2 and 3 might seem like an obvious boring spot to skip—after all, who wants to read about two people driving ten minutes to their destination? But, what if you tagged along on that ride and let your characters chat. No Plot Things, just chatting, relaxed conversation about whatever your characters might be interested in.

It may well turn out to still be a boring part, in which case you delete it in revision. Or, maybe parts of the conversation your record there is actually interesting and fun, and so you keep some of it, or most of it, and delete only the truly boring stuff. Even if you wind up deleting the whole sequence, you will likely have learned something about your characters in the process.

In fact, any time your characters aren’t actively fighting vampires or seducing each other or robbing banks, have them talk. Have them talk a lot. About anything, about nothing, because that’s what real people do, and it can be incredibly useful when fleshing out characters and a universe. The true super power isn’t skipping stuff you assume will be boring, but deleting stuff that has proved to be boring.

Of course, if I’m following the Boring Rule, entire novels I’ve written might be deleted. Shut up.

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4 thoughts on “Let ‛Em Chat

    1. Even in really good novels, I sometimes lose track of who said what in a conversation if they’re not well-attributed. That said, getting creative with attributions is a Road to Hell … for the reader.

      Liked by 1 person

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