Snappy Dialogue by Mar Preston

·         If you have trouble with dialogue, read your piece aloud. Then quiet yourself. Fall into a daze of non-thought, then listen within to your characters talking to each other. See if you can “hear” them. What kind of words do they use with each other? Are they slangy? Terse? Colloquial? Profane?  

·         Imagine everyday conversation. How do they talk about needing new tires for the car? A kid’s bad spelling test?  You can learn about them by “listening” to them in quiet moments within yourself.  After all, that’s where they live, isn’t it? They are you. They aren’t you.

·         Charge right into a passage of dialogue. You don’t need greetings, chitchat, comment on the weather, or compliments. 

·         Supporting characters can show doubt or disbelief about your main character’s goals or plans in the curl of a lip, a snort. “Yeah, well …” has a wealth of meanings.

·         Watch out for passages of retelling something that has already happened or commenting on events that are happening instead of showing them. Exchange exposition for confrontations between players, arguments, teasing, and misunderstandings.

·         Give some of the lines to somebody with a different POV. Save up a witticism for here.

·         Examine the visual impact of your dialogue sections. Tense dialogue contains lots of short sentences, fragments and white space. Watch out for dialogue that goes on for pages (unless you’re Robert B. Parker or Elmore Leonard, and none of us are).

·         If you’re building to a toe-to-toe confrontation, don’t do it over a four-page argument scene. Break it up. Take a phone call. Interrupt the gathering storm with an announcement that dinner is ready. You’ve built an expectation that this isn’t over yet, and your readers will stick with you to see who prevails and what happens in this confrontation.

Mar Preston is an award-winning Public Safety Writers Association author of six “How to” EBooks on “Writing Your First Mystery”, as well as seven police procedural novels.  This excerpt is taken from a new one called “Writing Suspense in Your Mystery Fiction,” finished, but as yet unpublished. Stay tuned.


Thonie Hevron said…
Thanks, Mar. I believe snappy dialog is one of the main features that engage readers these days. It's all about the attention span of the reader and this kind of writing keeps things moving.
Mar Preston said…
I like to pander to low popular tastes as much as the next gal, and long pages of text are daunting to readers. I'm a life-long big reader of all sorts of stuff, but a sense of humor and snappy dialogue keep me going through an overly-familiar plot.

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