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Oh, the Strain!

by Babe King

No, not my wrist- gack, who gets repetitive strain injuries from blogging- World’s Greatest Whimp. Thank you, thank you very much. 🙂 Not my coffee pot either, though coffee grounds were the inspiration for today’s ramble. No, I’m talking about straining pointless boring jabber from dialogue (of course my blog doesn’t count- no abacus here- jabber away).

Have you ever considered how hard it is to make your character’s conversations sound natural, but without all the usual repetitive dross we use every day? Hello. How are you? Nice to meet you. Does this come with an extra doughnut? Listen to yourself some time. Who knew you were so boring? Okay, your MIL, but who else?

Don’t get me wrong. Normally I can talk underwater with my mouth full of marbles and have it come out sounding like Handle’s Water Music meets conker cannons from a schoolyard rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812, but when I translate that to paper, it looks … messy, dull, directionless. Besides, few people can rabbit off a sentence as long as I do without going blue and dropping dead- yay to breath training. Anyway, the world’s paper reserves aren’t up to our everyday verbal diarrhea. Luckily, there’s a huge difference between dialogue real time and dialogue MS, but until I won “Writing Dialogue” in a recent best opening scene contest, I’d never given that difference much thought.

The book discusses modulated dialogue- using internal thoughts and scenic detail to add layers to what is said. I think what they were saying is, put it in context, keep it sharp, and try to get the reaction you need. For example: The little sister in “Ten Things I Hate About You” might have “loved her Prada backpack”, but if the writer hadn’t set it up with a discussion about how “deep” the girl was, well, hmm, we all mighta agreed with her instead of laughing.

What does this have to do with coffee grounds? Well, have you ever had some of the grounds escape into your morning cup of caffeine resuscitation? Ewww! You can be using the world’s best coffee blend, but after one mouthful of grit, down the sink it goes. What a waste! The same applies to our work in edits. We need to trim, tighten, and add direction to our dialogue. A few words of grit in our fabulous blend and spew! Your editor or reader is out of there. So make sure you strain well.

Well, I’m off to pour my coffee grounds on my fuchsias- yes, they love it – they go into withdrawals if I go on a caffeine-free health kick. (Okay, so I don’t do that often. What can I say, I have addicted plants to care for.) But I digress… As I was saying, in your dialogue, stay on topic, keep it short, sharp and meaningful, make sure it drives your plot forward so your reader is clinging to the edge of their seat the whole time, and when you finally get everything in perfect working order, let me know, ’cause I’ll definitely want to rip off, er, READ your book. 🙂