But dialogue is critical to getting the story right. I don't know about you guys, but I've realized I never skim dialogue the way I do prose. In an exciting scene or an argument, my gaze is often leaps over the descriptions and actions but never, ever the dialogue.
And nothing will yank you out of a story like cliche, tired, or fake sounding dialogue.
Today we're going to cover a couple more of your questions, and then next Friday (assuming my scheduling abilities can be trusted) we'll talk about some writing exercises for your dialogue.
Pausing and Pacing
A writer asked, "I've noticed that some authors use ellipses in their dialogue, and others actually state something to the effect of, "She paused." Do you think it's better to use one method consistently (and risk overkill), or is it okay to mix them for variety? Also, with what frequency do you think I should do so?"
This is purely my opinion, and in no way a rule or The Correct Way to Write Pauses. I mix it up. Here are some examples of ways that I do this:
"Is Mom okay?"
Dad blinked a couple times. "Of course."
"What are you saying?"
"I just think that maybe .... maybe we shouldn't be together."
"Do you understand what this ... this..." Lydia waved her hands, as if she could grasp the correct word from the air. "This power play of yours has cost me?"
"The thing is..." How could I say this to him? He was gonna be crushed. "Your father and I are separating."
“Your mother’s and my goal”—Dad takes Mom’s hand in his own—“is to get things back to normal life as soon as possible."
There are other ways to write a pause (including, but not limited to "She paused" or "She hesitated" or "A beat of silence passed" or "After a moment's pause.) but those are some of the ways I do it. Those last two examples are techniques I'm particularly fond of.
I like using a pause in dialogue to show what the POV character is thinking. And the em-dash is a technique I first discovered in Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby, which is one of the first YA novels I ever read. I remember actually copying down word for word, dash for dash, an example so I would know how to do it. The exact formatting depends on the publishing house. Revell, the publisher of the Skylar Hoyt books, formats it like above. I've also seen it:
"Your mother's and my goal—" Dad takes Mom's hand in his own—"is to get things back to normal life as soon as possible."
"Your mother's and my goal—" Dad takes Mom's hand in his own "—is to get things back to normal life as soon as possible."
As for the frequency of pauses, this answer may seem far too simple but it's the best one I have to offer. In your head, if you "hear" your character pausing, let them pause. So long as you're giving them a reason to be hesitant, you'll be fine.
Another writer says: "I find it really hard to pace things like a breakup or something. How would you space that out in a dialogue scene... thing?"
I love the way the writer phrased that. Can't you just hear the hesitation in what to call it?
Breakups are hard to pace, but I love writing them. (And I'm naturally drawn to angry breakup songs. Meanwhile, I've been happily married for 7 1/2 years. Strange.)
The key, I think, to pacing a breakup scene (or any other scene that in real life would be dramatic and looooong) is to go back to the concept of "arrive late and leave early." You should be doing this for all your scenes, really, but it's especially vital for breakups/I love yous/so-and-so died and so forth.
This is from Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones (fabulous book, one of my faves of 2011):
The smells in the room-the food, her life decaying-made her want to throw up. "I could wait, you know. We could do the long distance thing."
"I'm sorry." He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. "For what it's worth, I believe you're the right girl-it's just not the right time."
Two minutes later Lucy stood in her living room and watched Matt drive away.
We didn't need those other two minutes, right? Jenny has given us everything we need to know about their breakup.
Figure out what it is your reader needs to know. Like in the above scene, which takes place in the prologue, we need to know that Lucy was willing to make it work, and that Matt was not. Once Jenny passed along that info, she got us the heck out of there and on with the story. If it's helpful, you can make a list of vital information that needs to be exchanged. Once you get it out of your character's mouths, you'll know it's time to draw the curtain on that scene.
Don't forget, contests resume next Monday, so make sure you check in next week to find out the writing prompt! Have a great weekend, everyone!