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.