Book Beat Babes

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Better Dialogue! by DL Larson

I wrote pages and pages of notes when I attended the workshop with writer/agent Donald Maass. He spent a great deal of time on dialogue. He mentioned the 'he said/she said,' days are over. 21st Century writing requires more with less words.

During the workshop, each participant chose a scene in their WIP to rewrite the dialogue. He requested we create a scene that conveys anger, insults, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, etc.  The scene below is what I wrote:

Tracy peered out the window. "I don't see anything."
"Hmm, If you'd only look. It's happening right there."
"No, it's not. There's nothing there. Is this a prank?"
He tossed her the binoculars. "Here. Hurry. I have to go to gone and departed."
He cleared his throat. "Look again."
"Oh good, Lord. What is that?"
"You asked to see and now you have. Now go home."

Then he asked us to delete more from the scene. I thought this was a pretty tight scene already. But I slashed away and came up with this:

"I don't see anything."
"It's happening right there."
"There's nothing there."
He tossed her the binoculars. "Look again."
"What is that?"
"You asked to see. Now leave."

Is this better? I don't know at this point. But I understand the exercise to create tension and emotion in the dialogue without using obvious direction. I may never use this scene in my WIP, but I will use the tool in future dialogues. I don't need to say, 'he said/she said,' after every spoken word. Editors have become sticklers for tighter dialogue and this exercise will help in creating fresher scenes.

If you find a scene in your WIP that drags, try this exercise. Think of a sculptor nicking away the clay or marble to reveal the sculpture he wants to create. The tension is in your writing, it's merely hidden beneath too many words.

Til next time ~

DL Larson


  1. Actually, Deb, I thought the first section with the longer version showed more tension. Yes, the second version worked also. But I'm a visual person and the first section gave me more of a lead in, to make me wonder what was going on, and to want more. Good job.

    Good luck with the rewrites. I can't wait until you're done.

  2. I'm glad you think so too. Taking a stranger's advice - even a professional is a tricky step. Thanks for your input. Glad you stopped by today!

  3. I love pages and pages of notes from conferences. It really gets you excited about writing.

    I tend to use a lot of action tags when I write dialogue. I will definitely need to look at tightening up. I know it's been said that a conversation can flow without more than a few tags or actions. If there's only two people in a scene, not every line of dialogue needs a tag or an action.

  4. So true. And having the character do something is another indication of who is speaking. As long as isn't distracting from the dialogue.

  5. It depends on the mood of the story and how you wish to project it in the dialogue. Longer dialogue could illustrate a more relaxed mood.

  6. Yes, I wish Mr. Maass had had us do another type of dialogue to practice a bit more. Maybe next time. Thanks for sharing everyone.