A Little Conversation Please

A Little Conversation Please

Dialogue and conversation in a book can be tricky. I happen to love dialogue and can appreciate good conversation. I talk about talking a lot. It’s important for a story to have good, believable dialogue.

There is a balance, however. Too much talk sounds unreal it can make a reader think too much or too little.  To little can leave readers bored. Dialogue is also not stationary. People don’t sit perfectly still while talking. They are always doing something. I know when I read if there is too much poof in a sentence and nothing happening I get uncomfortable and close the book. The idea of turning off a reader churns my stomach and makes me want to try harder.

Here is what too much talk in dialogue looks like.

“This looks great Tony, you did a marvellous job barbequing. You put so much effort into getting the steaks just perfect and the way I like them the best. I find that charming and sweet.”

“Anything for you Anne. You work so hard, and I know you don’t have time to do this yourself. So when I can cook for you, I do enjoy doing so.”

“Mmm, it really is perfect. I’m glad you told me what wine to pick up. I don’t know a rose from a white from a sparkling.. whatever.”

“The right wine does complement the food for certain. I know how much you love wine even if you rarely partake.”

“You do know me well.”

Soooooo…. yeah. Nothing happened, but a lot should have or did? I cant tell really because all I did was have some superfluous static conversation.

Let’s add some action tags and maybe a dialogue tag.

Tony sat across from Anne as she shuffled her chair closer to the table. “This looks great Tony, you did a marvellous job barbecuing. You put so much effort into getting the steaks just perfect and the way I like them the best. I find that charming and sweet.” She said and cut a morsel free with a sharp steak knife. 

“Anything for you Anne. You work so hard, and I know you don’t have time to do this yourself. So when I can cook for you, I do enjoy doing so.” Tony smiled and ate a mouthful. 

Anne set her fork down, swallowed and picked up her wineglass. “Mmm, it really is perfect. I’m glad you told me what wine to pick up. I don’t know a rose from a white from a sparkling.. whatever.” She said and clinked her glass with Tony’s as he held it out. 

“The right wine does complement the food for certain. I know how much you love wine even if you rarely partake.” Tony sipped and set his glass down. 
“You do know me well.” 

A bit better. Now they’re not statues. But the dialogue is so… poofy and weird for a couple. Most of that could go into a meaningful narrative or better word choices.

The narrative should be kept in the same tense from start to finish. That is if you start in the first person, keep it that way. No shifting perspectives. Now I’ll take that and add some narrative to set the scene and add some introspective to lighten the conversation load.

Tony sat across from Anne as she shuffled her chair closer to the table. When he had time, Tony preferred to barbeque a good steak and knows how Anne likes hers done. Any little thing he could do to ease her stress from work and put a smile on her face was worth it.

“This looks great,”  She said with a grin and cut a morsel free with a sharp steak knife. 

“You deserve a break.” Tony smiled and ate a mouthful.

Anne set her fork down, swallowed and picked up her wineglass. “Mmm, it’s perfect as usual Thank you. Speaking of perfect, the clerk at the store thought it was hilarious that you sent me a picture of what wine to get. We had a good chuckle that I’m wine-dumb.”

Tony held out his glass, they clinked, smiled, and both sipped generously. 

“I just didn’t want a sparkling pear concoction like you got last time.” He said and stifled a chuckle. “For someone that loves wine as much as you do it’s funny that you select purely on how cute the label is.” He blew her a kiss over the table. “While adorable it’s not a good pare with steak.” Tony sipped and set his glass down. 

“You do know me well.” Anne giggled behind her hand before cutting another bite of steak. 

So by taking out the unnecessary and unnatural dialogue, I put it into more condensed words and eased it into narrative outside the conversation. I also put some story into the dialogue to make it sound like they are talking about their day and not just each other. A couple isn’t likely to sit and complement the other gregariously.

When I write a block of dialogue and someones not giving a speech I cringe. I’ll edit, revise and revisit that chunk until I have what feels like a realistic scene. There are times when I write, and I neglect the setting, interactions in the setting and action tags. It’s important that a cement block of conversation be broken until it flows like a pure spring water creek. I personally wouldn’t be done with that last edit. I would go back and make sure each character’s personality shines and maybe set the scene with some narrative at the beginning outlining how stressed and tired Anne is, perhaps why. For simplicity, I kept the example short.

In Prophecy Ink when I edit and revise, I look for long strings of stale conversation. Sometimes its simple dialogue or complex. Either way, it needs the support of narrative, action and dialogue tags and descriptives. Even if talking on a phone a person can sigh, scratch a neck or pace.

My advice about Conversation.

It’s easy to plunk down the conversation to keep the story going. If it’s distracting to add the tags and narrative or actions do, it afterwards. That’s the magic of revision and rewriting. 

-Sheryl

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