How to Knock Out Dull Dialogue In Your Novel Manuscript

How to Knock Out Dull Dialogue In Your Novel Manuscript

How to Knock Out Dull Dialogue In Your Novel Manuscript
Image by Jurgen Appelo

How to Knock Out Dull Dialogue In Your Novel Manuscript

Sometime during our writing career, most of us learned that we need to write realistic dialogue. We need to have our characters speak like real people. And not only that, but they also need to resemble their corresponding types of character. So, if a character is a rock 'n roll singer, he needs to speak and act like one. A character that is a drug addict should resemble a drug addict. And a character that is a concert pianist should resemble a pianist.

But then we learned this little piece of advice from Elmore Leonard: leave out the parts people skip.

Hmm. Sounds a bit like a contradiction. But… it's not that the advice is wrong or that it contradicts Mr. Leonard's advice; it's that, somewhere along the line, we misinterpreted the advice.

To write a compelling story, it needs realism. Something that will allow readers to feel connected. But we also need to leave out the parts that will bore our readers to death. And that includes commonplace things relating to everyday life. Things like small talk in dialogue.

Small talk can be fine in real life (although I'm sure we all know at least one person who can't stand it). But add it to a story, and your readers will likely get so fed up, they'll put your book down. I don't know about you, but that's not my goal.

One of the easiest ways to knock out dull dialogue is to remove the niceties. The lines like, "Hi, how are you?" and "I'm fine. How are you?" Nobody wants to read that. It slows down a scene and distracts the reader. Readers can create their own images if we simply summarize the initial greeting. Unless commonplace dialogue reveals vital information or advances the plot, it needs to go. All dialogue needs to be used in a meaningful way.

You might be wondering how you can make a scene realistic if you can't include commonplace dialogue. The truth is, you don't need it. Instead of focusing so much on using a word-for-word approach to record every detail, focus on the parts of a conversation that advances the plot or serves the characterization. What information or character trait *must* be conveyed in order for the story to make sense?

The more you make the dialogue meaningful, the tighter the prose will become. And that's what will help you keep your readers engaged until the last page. 

Jody Calkins
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