The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue by John Hough, Jr.
As a teacher, I keep coming across posters that declare, “Said is Dead!”
To me, these alternatives are just lazy. A good writer doesn’t need them. Said says it all. John Hough explains . . .
“Said” isn’t intrusive, at all. It’s invisible. The reader reads it again and again and again, and never notices it. The dialogue, then, stands on its own, This forces you, the writer, to write dialogue that needs no help, and dialogue that needs no help is good dialogue.
He also suggest that exclamation points should rarely be used. There’s an oft-repeated rule in writing that “you are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” Once again, this is all about letting the writing speak for itself. Wise words indeed!
Keep it Brief
It’s best not to let your characters drone on. Hough suggest speeches be “one to three sentences, preferably no more that two, per speech–whenever possible.”
Avoid the Quirks, Tics, and Habits of Real Life
In real life we ask questions a lot that are really insignificant. We should never do that in our writing.
Dialogue should be abrupt. Every question, however benign, should be direct. It should demand an answer. With every question your characters are putting each other on the spot, which is why their answers are revealing.
The Paradox of Dialogue
In everyday speech, we start and stop abruptly. We repeat ourselves, we grope along for the right words, and we don’t always say what we had meant to say. Fiction dialogue needs to be a lot cleaner but still sound realistic. Here is the paradox . . .
The better the dialogue, the less realistic it should be, and the more realistic it will sound. Think of dialogue in fiction as what is left after the extraneous verbiage is stripped away. It is what we mean to say, what we do say, in essence, Think of your written dialogue as a form of shorthand that preserves the most vivid and succinct lines of an exchange or conversation.
Invent a Spoken Language
Here is some great advice for all us writers out there . . .
Invent a spoken language–dialogue–that is a synthesis of what you read and what you hear, and that is appropriate to your characters and their time and place.
The author suggests that we can be on the lookout for great tidbits of dialogue. We can borrow a line from here and there and focus it better in our own writing.
My 2 Cents
These are just a few of the notes I made while reading this book. I hope my dialogue will improve because of the tips that Hough points out.
I know that I need to work on this part of my writing. I plan to do a rewrite of some of my work focusing only on dialogue. Then I will be ready to query it and release my works to the world. I know, it’s long over due.
My 2015 Reading Log (25 books and counting)