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About Writing Right: The Blog

"Strong Talk - Writing Effective Dialogue

Anyone can put a few words between two quotations marks; but not everyone knows how to make those words sing. If that's your problem, here's a tip you can take to the bank. Describing your character's dialogue to your reader means you're writing ineffective dialogue.

Sad but true, and it's all too common a shortcoming in writers of all calibers.

Now, admittedly, different writers handle dialogue differently. That's one of the things that helps to establish a writer's literary voice. It's one of the things that defines his style. But there are effective ways of handling dialogue, and there are ineffective ways. Take a look at this example:

"I hate you," she screamed shrilly.

What's wrong with that, you ask? The writer tells us that she screamed and that her voice was shrill. Isn't that merely an example of good descriptive dialogue, of being specific?

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From Mid-List to Best-Seller

We’ve all heard the stories: first-time author inks multi-million-dollar contract with major publisher. Well, it does happen...except that it happens so rarely, it actually is news. Even when that does occur, the multi-million-dollar contract is usually for a multi-book deal (one joint advance for several books yet to be written). Of course, most news stories miss that tiny detail.

The sad reality of it is that, while better known and proven authors often pull in enough money from which to make a comfortable living, first-time authors more often than not are relegated to what publishers call Midlist, which is the rough equivalent of taking a vacation in hell in the middle of August.

Here’s the breakdown of various publisher’s categories and how newly acquired books are prioritized, from lowest to highest.

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Building Dialogue Right

Reports of dialogue’s death, to misquote Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated. We’ve seen a swing away from effective dialogue and toward more ineffective narrative recently. Why? Because narrative is easier to write, even good narrative, than dialogue. So why dwell on the spoken word?

Because it's desirable and even necessary to most stories. Yet, setting dialogue up in the wrong way can take a devastating toll on the reader. Take this example:

"I wanted to tell him that I needed him," Mary told John's mother. "I wanted him to know that I still cared.” She had to break the news to her. “He's the father of my child." She stifled the urge to cry. "And even if I can't be with him for the rest of my life, I wanted to tell him that, for my sake and for the sake of little Max, he would always be welcomed in our home.” She paused before continuing. “But when he began running around with that other woman, when he began using drugs and staying away for days and sometimes weeks on end ..." Mary felt the anger welling within her. "I felt I had to draw the line. So I did."

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