Chapter 5 of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

Here in chapter 5 we get a nice lesson on dialogue mechanics. The basic lesson is that you want your mechanics to be as transparent as possible and not get in the way of the dialogue. “Show don’t tell” is once again the star of the chapter.

The fist basic idea is to stop telling how people said something. The actual dialogue or a beat should accomplish that. Don’t write:

“Stop eating that pie,” she said angrily.

Instead, something like this works better to show the emotion”

She slammed her fork on the table. “Stop eating that pie.”

We want reader to feel the emotion in our characters–not know about the emotion. If we tell readers exactly about the emotion, they cannot interpret it the way that best suits them. So, show them, instead..

Also watch out for description that tells about the content of dialogue–you show what someone is thinking and then they say what they are thinking. That’s twice your readers learn about it. One time too many.

A lot of the time, dialogue explanations come in the form of -ly adjectives, which is another reason to get rid of such words.

In the end, the only reason to use speaker attributes is to show readers who is speaking. No other reason. Not to convey emotion or to tell how someone said it. Because of that, we should use the word “said” almost without exception.

Other tips:
–Don’t open a paragraph with speaker attribution.
–Put the character’s pronoun before “said” (that is: “Dave said”, not “said Dave.”)
–Decide how you’re going to refer to a character for a scene and stick to it.
–If it’s clear who is speaking, get rid of character attributions completely.
–If you’re getting tired of the number of beats, insert a beat, instead. A beat is a piece of action. In my example above, it’s the slamming of the fork on the table.
–To show an interruption, use dashes.
–To show someone trailing off, use ellipses.
–Start a new paragraph with each speaker.

And, there you have it. Dialogue mechanics.


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