Friday, January 27, 2012

A checklist for editing your dialogue

The lovely Emily Rachelle asked me if I could please compile a checklist for editing dialogue. I thought that sounded like a great idea, so I did. If the following list seems helpful to you, here is the link for downloading and printing it out.


__ Are you trusting your dialogue and using action beats, or are you trying to make up for weak dialogue with lots of, “she retorted” and “he exclaimed” and she “expostulated”?

__ Are your characters strategic about what they say next, or are they just blurting things out? Did they enter this conversation with a plan?

__ When your characters receive tough news or bad breaks, are they processing the situation and experiencing grief in a realistic way?

__ Have you fallen into a “Q&A” pattern anywhere? Where one character is doing nothing but asking questions and the other character is doing nothing but answering them.

__ Do your characters use different words for the same thing, or are their phrasings too similar? (Grocery store can also be the market, purses can also be handbags)

__ Are you letting character/story information come out naturally, or are you trying to explain too much with your dialogue? (“Gee, Bob, I’m so glad it’s our anniversary today and that we’ve been married for 7 years and have 2 beautiful children!”)

__ Does every character behave and interact as though they believe they are the main character?

__ Are you using contractions?

__ Is your dialogue age-appropriate? Or are your toddlers elegant and your grannies saying words like “peeps.” (*Shudder.* Don’t know why, but I hate that phrase.)

__ Do you have too many “group” conversations? (Conversations with 4 or more.)

__ Is “small talk” bogging down your story? (Hi, how are you? Good, how are you? Good. Nice day we’re having. Sure is. And so on.)

__ Do you have a good balance of internal thoughts and dialogue? Does the reader get a sense of not only what the point-of-view character is saying, but why they are saying it and what they feel about the conversation in general?

__ Have you considered conversations from the perspective of all the characters involved, not just the point-of-view character?

Anyone notice something that should be on the list? Leave a comment below, and I'll get it added.

Have a great weekend! Be back here on Monday for the new 100-word writing contest!

25 comments:

  1. This is great thank you. I'm printing it out and putting it in my binder so I can look at it even if I don't have my laptop.
    Alyson

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  2. I'm going to have to print this out. I think a good one to add is, "go back through and get rid of any unnecessary dialogue." Because if it doesn't need to be there, it will mess up the whole flow of the story.

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  3. This is a great list. Thank you!

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  4. Great list!

    A suggestion I have to add to it is, "Is the dialogue necessary to the storyline, or are you [the author] simply trying to generate more wordcount?"

    Chazak,
    - Hannah
    www.swordofink.com

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    1. Lol. Surely we wouldn't be guilty of just trying to up our word count! ;) Great suggestion, Hannah. I'll get that added.

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  5. I sometimes wonder if I have too much dialogue and how to fix this problem. Most of my cases where there is too much involve certain things, like characters asking "why can't we do X?" and other characters answering, "Because Y would happen."
    I end up with this normally when there are a lot of characters and it tends to be because I want the readers to know why X won't work. Problem is, I often get a lot of X's and have pages of characters discussing why certain things won't work.

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    1. My first drafts usually have too much dialogue because it's the part I really, really like to write :) When I edit, I close my eyes and think about all the sensory details and what the point of view character is thinking. Then I beef the scene up.

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  6. Oh my garsh, Stephanie, this list is perfect! Not to mention funny :)I will definitely print it out :)
    Question: Is it okay to have some dialogue in a "journal"? Mine's set in the 18th century, and I'm having a hard time spicin' it up.

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    1. Yes, I've always seen dialogue in journal-format books. Including (off the top of my head) Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

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    2. How would I format that in?

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    3. Melody Carlson does a great job using dialogue in her Confessions of A Teenage Girl series (Caitlin is my favorite). :)

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    4. Hmmm... my sister has those. I'll have to ask if I can borrow them :)

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    5. Sorry, Lydia, I'm cleaning out email and just saw your question! You would format it the same as in a "regular" book. A little goes a long way with the journal thing. Readers like it and it can work, but ultimately they care about the story more than they do feeling like they're reading a real journal. Does that make sense? So within the "journal entry" format the dialogue like a real book.

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  7. Okay, I have a question. Is it a bad idea to have group conversations of four or more? I have lots of characters in one of my WIPs and they tend to all congregate in the same place (they travel in close proximity on a tour bus, so it's hard to avoid group conversations). I see why these are so difficult to handle (believe me, "he said" and "she said" get old after a while) but I'm not sure what I can do to handle them tactfully.

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  8. Sky, group conversations are certainly necessary for making the story feel real. They also have a way of completely sucking the tension out of the story if they go on too long or happen too often. This post offers some advice about successfully writing group conversations: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-write-good-dialogue-part-three.html

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  9. This is really great! I'll definitely be looking at this in the future (I might have to print it out like someone suggested). My dialogue tends to fall into the Q&A pattern a lot... I feel like half my revision is spent fixing that :P

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  10. Yes, thanks it's always awesome to have a list right there, so you don't forget anything! Thanks :-)

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  11. EEEEEEPPP!!! A CHECKLIST! I love <3 Lists are so stinkin' helpful. -sigh-

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  12. What are action beats?
    These are great tips!

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    1. Lyra, here's a link to a post about action beats: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2011/06/invisible-said.html

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