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Monday, October 10, 2016

Fluff in Dialogue

Jim asked another question:

The guidelines for eliminating fluff or fillers were very helpful. I learned a lot from them. (I know, I shouldn’t have used “a lot”. Having said that, do these same rules or guidelines apply to dialogue as they do with narrative? It appears that we can use unfinished or incomplete sentences, poor grammar, pauses, etc. in dialogue. Do we have the same exemption when it comes to fluff or filler words within dialogue?

As asked above, even if we are not bound by the same rules within dialogue, would it be better to still remove as many fluff words such as that, very, really, just, get, got, etc. as possible?


Camy here: In dialogue, it’s fine to have incomplete sentences, poor grammar, etc. But also be aware that dialogue in fiction isn’t really true dialogue—it’s kind of like the difference between a real mixed martial arts fight and a scripted fight on TV. The moves are all the same but on TV, the scripted fight is made to look prettier and flow better and be more entertaining for a larger audience.

In fiction, dialogue isn’t like true dialogue in real life. We eliminate the things that might be uninteresting, or unnecessary, or that would slow the pacing of the scene.

That said, you can’t eliminate everything extraneous from your dialogue—it still has to sound natural. There’s a fine line to walk for a writer, and it usually comes down to your own gut instinct on those things.

I tend to overuse the words “very,” “really,” and “just” in my dialogue, so I will go through my manuscript (after I’m done with the entire thing) and search for my “hotwords” so that I can eliminate as many as possible. I still probably have too many left, but at least it’s not as much as before. If you see that you overuse filler or fluff words, then it’s better to go through and try to eliminate as many as possible, although be aware that you won’t want to get rid of all of them—self-edit according to how it seems to sound better for you as the writer.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Q&A: Can Dialogue be Backstory Dumping?

It’s been a while, but I was finally cleaning out my Inbox and got a question from Jim. He wrote book one in a series aimed at 6-9 year olds, but he had a question about the second book in the series:

At this point, I used Book 2 to allow the child’s siblings to ask and receive answers about what he’s been doing the past 8 months. This was done via dialogue.

Would this be considered Backstory dumping when it’s a second book and responds to a different “now”. If it’s not considered “dumping”, would it still be preferable to eliminate the 6-8 chapters in book 2 and go with the “dribble” the backstory approach?


Camy here: Honestly, it’s entirely up to you. I’ve seen children’s books that have massive backstory dumps, and others where the backstory is more gradually inserted as the story goes along.

I’ve also seen books where the backstory is only briefly outlined. (For example: “Harry explained about how he got somehow entered into the Goblet of Fire and had to compete in dangerous tasks for the competition, but it all turned out to be a trick to forcibly transport him to Voldemort’s reincarnation spell.”) Then the details are gradually inserted later in the story as needed.

I think it also depends on how the story pacing is going. If the backstory dialogue is extensive (and it sounds like it’s about 2-3 chapters long in your book) then it might halt the action and ruin the story pacing. On the other hand, the backstory might be absolutely necessary before continuing the story and it doesn’t upset the pacing at all.

I think you should go with your gut instinct. What do you think would make for better story flow?

Another option is to ask for a few beta readers to give you feedback on the pacing with and without those backstory chapters. If they all say the same thing, then you should probably listen to their advice.
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