It would be nice to relate that few writers ever have pacing issues, but as any novelist knows, the story’s tempo is often–as it should be–on the forefront of an author’s mind.In the writing workshops I facilitate that are sponsored by the Palm Beach County Library System, budding authors often ask about ways to better pace their material. One of my suggestions is to insert dialogue if the scene is flagging. This, of course, isn’t always possible or even practical, however, I find this option is available more often than it isn’t. And this is another reason why learning to craft effective dialogue is important (sic, paramount) to any writer’s success.
Dialogue can Promote “Showing” and Eliminate “Telling”
Another of the greatest benefits of developing dialogue skills is the inherent subjugation of the dreaded “Show Don’t Tell” dilemma. This is because dialogue automatically creates action, since the characters are speaking. As a bi-product, dialogue also encourages the writer to maintain an active tense and write around passive tense; i.e., “have been,” “had been,” “would’ve been”, etc.
Reading “Out-Loud” What We Write is Never More Important than With Dialogue
In discussing dialogue in general, it is critical to understand that we can’t write like we talk, anymore than we can talk like we write. It is the ability to write between the two that makes for quality dialogue. And the best way to determine if the goal has been met, as in all writing, is to read aloud what was written.
And if it sounds bad the initial time we read it, it isn’t going to get any better, no matter how many more times we traipse through it. What will happen by re-reading is that we will memorize the lines or the pattern of the dialogue so we can read it more fluently. But the person who will be reading it for the first time is not going to have the author’s patience or persistence. Hence, if we stumble the first time and we wrote it, rewrite it!
Steinbeck and Leonard as Models of Great Dialogists
I wrote in an earlier article, Four Authors of Classical Contemporary Literature Defined the Craft of Writing Perfect Prose, and stated, as a dialogist, it is hard to dispute Steinbeck’s brilliance. In the medium of dialogue, if he is not considered the quintessential classicist, few would dispute that he is certainly near the very apogee of this element of the craft. However, from a purely contemporary standpoint, many, of which I am a subscriber, find Elmore Leonard the current standard-bearer.
Editors Often Consider a Writer’s Dialogue Skills First
Regardless of whomever and from whichever era a writer chooses to study material, many renowned managing editors have documented that dialogue is often the first aspect of a novelist’s ability they consider when contemplating a work for publication. That, in itself, should tell anyone the importance placed on dialogue.
Robert L. Bacon is the Founder of The Perfect Write(TM) theperfectwrite.com
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