Writing Tip #6 Loose Dialogue

This is the sixth of 12 posts for Writers who are planning to self-publish using the great services now available to the amateur writer, such as Smashwords, Amazon KDP, CreateSpace etc.

These mistakes are straight from week1 of “Good Writing 101”. You might get away with one or two of them; maybe people won’t notice. But if you consistently break these rules your chances of building a career as an author will be doomed.

6. Loose Dialogue

Dialogue needs to be short and to the point. Forget ums and ers and verbal ping pong. This is an area where I continually stray and my editor has to drag me back onto the straight and narrow.

Detective Inspector Darius cracked his knuckles. “Give me the highlights, Sergeant.”

“So far we have very little to go on, sir,” said Sergeant Clooney. “It’s going to be the devil’s own job to identify the victim.”

“No sign of the head?”

Clooney shook his head. “I have gangs searching the woods—”

“What about the sewers?” said Darius.

“And the sewers. And we’re doing house to house, of course.”

“You’re not optimistic. I can tell from your expression.” The inspector stretched out his long limbs and yawned, and the sergeant bit his tongue. Darius was full of himself. One of those useless pricks that couldn’t find a pint in a brewery. The only thing he was good at was getting himself promoted on the back of the good police work of others.

“No, sir. We need to find the head.”

“And check dental records.”

“Yes, sir.”

Reduces to:

“No sign of the head?” Detective Inspector Darius cracked his knuckles.

Clooney shook his head. “I have gangs searching the woods and the sewers, and we’re doing house to house.”

The inspector stretched out his long limbs and yawned. The sergeant bit his tongue. Darius couldn’t find a pint in a brewery. The only thing he was good at was getting himself promoted on the back of the good police work of others.

 

6 thoughts on “Writing Tip #6 Loose Dialogue

  1. phoebescribe says:

    Although the second piece reads better, there really is no ‘mistake’ with the first one. Which then makes it hard-possibly, even impossible-for younger writers(such as myself) to be able to take note of unnecessarily long dailogue.

    I major in Math and Actuarial Science, but I still maintain that writing is more a science than both of those quantitative course!

    • jjtoner says:

      Hi Phoebe. I agree. The line between tight dialogue and loose dialogue is largely a matter of judgement, but the point I was trying to make was that the first example was too loose, i.e. it took too many words to get the point across. Short, concise prose is best. Charles Dickens must be spinning in his grave!

  2. Jeffrey Von Glahn says:

    If “science” can be understood as a series of consciously aware steps; i.e., following a theory or a formula, then writing that appeals to the reader’s emotions; i.e., the style of fiction or novelized biography, wouldn’t seem to meet that requirement as it’s more of a creative/intuitive endeavor as it relies more on the author’s experience as a writer than on a consciously guided way of proceeding. Human experience is far too multi-dimensional to be captured by a pre-set way of understanding it. For example, one aspect of a character’s experience can be affected by two or more stimuli affecting that person at the same time. The “mistake” in the first sample is that excessive dialogue distracts the reader’s mind’/brain from spontaneously engaging with the narrative. In science, the reader is eager to actively concentrate, that’s inappropriate for writing in the style of fiction.

  3. AUTHOR DAVID WOLF says:

    Maybe more important is to carefully decide what you’re trying to convey. In the examples above, looks like it’s to show the disdain the sergeant has for his boss. The looser version actually obscures that and even makes the boss look fairly competent.

    • JJ Toner says:

      Hi David. Yes, I agree. The point I was trying to make was that the information about the investigation could be imparted without all that backward and forward dialogue. Looking at it from the reader’s perspective, the looser interchange adds nothing – and just wastes the reader’s time.

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