Cut the words and write snappier dialogue.
January 25, 2016
THE FEWER WORDS, the snappier the dialogue – so keep your character’s speeches as short as possible.
Real-life conversations are wordy and often dull. People often talk faster than they think, so they use filler words like ‘really’ and ‘quite’. They say the same thing several times until it sinks in, and they let sentences ramble on and on. Fictional dialogue needs to be much tighter.
Tight speech creates stronger emphasis than repetitions.
Characters who use few words comes across as intelligent and confident, which is probably how you want the readers to see your heroine, hero and villain. Let your characters ask precise questions, give laconic answers and deliver pithy comments.
When people converse in tight phrases, the dialogue sizzles.
Short sentences make dialogue feel realistic. Dialogue sentences don’t have to complete; sometimes partial sentences work well.
Here are some examples of dialogue sentences before and after a slimming diet:
“You know, I reckon you may be missing a chance that won’t come again in this lifetime. Are you absolutely sure you want to do that?”
“Do you want to miss this chance?”
He turned to look at her, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Actually, this is up to you. I think it’s you who has to make a decision here, one way or another. It’s your choice, really.”
He shrugged. “Your choice.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, Augustus. Let me get this right. Are you saying that you’re leaving me?”
“You’re leaving me?”
He grabbed her by the arm and said, “At least tell me where you’re going.”
She turned to look at him. “It’s really obvious where I’m going, after what has just happened. I’m going home, of course. You shouldn’t need to ask.”
He grabbed her arm. “Where are you going?”
“What he told you just now isn’t true. It was really a lie.”
Before you tighten the dialogue in your own writing, you may like to practise with these wordy sentences. Be ruthless: How tight can you get them?
- “I can’t say I’m completely sure about this.”
- “I’m sorry but I guess that’s it, then, really.”
- “This is simply so unbelievable.”
- “I must say, the time has come when it has become absolutely necessary that all of us unite for our cause.”
- “You may not like me asking this, but I have to know, so please tell me the truth why you are late.”
- “What happened then was that for some reason, Bill simply walked out.”
- “Unless you take this back, you need to face the consequences, because I find that I may have no option but to pursue the necessary cause of action and pull the trigger of the gun to shoot you on the spot, and believe me, I’ll do it.”