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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dialogue—back and forth

One thing I see often in the entries I judge in contests is long passages of dialogue.

And why not? Jane Austen got away with it. Historical romance writers—even the current best-selling ones—have long paragraphs of one person talking.

Granted, historical novels have a completely different atmosphere that’s more conducive to long stints of dialogue, but let’s face it, folks—do YOUR friends like to hear you talk for that long without stopping?

Believable dialogue in contemporary fiction, especially, needs shorter passages and more back-and-forth between characters. One person says a sentence or two, the other person responds to what they said.

Historical fiction can have slightly longer passages, but big ole’ long honkin’ paragraphs might lose your reader’s attention.

Shorter passages of dialogue also serve to pick up the reading pace. Long passages of dialogue can become ponderous to the reader and stall the story flow.

Here’s an exercise that takes this to the extreme, but can help you to break up any long passages of dialogue in your manuscript:

Take a scene of dialogue, any scene. Rewrite it so that each time a person speaks, they can only use A MAXIMUM OF FIVE WORDS. Then the other character has to respond before the first speaker can continue talking.

It’s fun, but it’s also a good way to show how shorter dialogue can make the reading pace a lot snappier and the story flow faster.

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