How to Edit Your Dialogue - Writer's Digest

How to Edit Your Dialogue

If dialogue wastes time and stops or delays your novel's progress toward resolving the conflict, it must be cut, pared down or rewritten. Look for these areas in your manuscript, and you'll find places where your dialogue should be revisited. by Todd A. Stone
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OPENING NICETIES
In real speech, we open most conversations with introductions and small talk. In fiction, these introductions and small talk do nothing but get in the way:

"Good morning, Sam."
"Morning, Wally."
"How are you?"
"Fine. Nice looking day today, isn't it?"

Sam and Wally may soon reveal their needs in conflict, but why wait? Cut the niceties and get to it:

"Good morning, Sam."

"It would be, if I didn't have to look at your backstabbing face so early."

There's no waiting and no doubt at all what the conflict is here.

PAUSES TO THINK
In real speech, we use filler words or sounds to buy time to think about what to say next.

In dialogue, words like well, ahem, ah and uh dilute the conflict and get in the way of its progression. If your character needs to stall for time, have her do something that signals her need to stall or her reluctance to answer:

"What's the status of the Corbin Project?" said Al.
Linda bit her lip and looked down at the floor. An eternity of tense seconds passed.
"There are serious problems."
"Unsatisfactory. I told you I wanted that project straightened out by now."

Here the conflict is intense, the action moves fast and we know Linda is in hot water.

ECHOES
In real speech we use echoes to ensure understanding, to buy time to form a reply, or to continue a conversation.

Pat said, "I went to see Fred today."
"You saw Fred, did you?" said Lois.
"Yes, I saw Fred. We talked about the Jackson case."
"You discussed the Jackson case? What for?"

Rewriting to delete the echoes and to foreground the conflict yields a much more intense passage.

"I saw Fred today," Pat said. "We talked about the Jackson case."
"You had no right to do that," said Lois.

Take the guesswork out of creating great fiction. Consider:
Plot versus Character

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