Happy Memorial Day Everyone!
Thanks to all who have served our country.
May we honor them as they deserve and
may we all enjoy a blessed day, today.
Question from the e-mail: I remember your saying, "Dialog is like money in the bank." But my new teacher says I have "too much dialogue." She suggests I cut some.Any ideas on how to tell when I have too much? And what to cut. Junie.
Answer: That depends on the teacher. Some literary writers and college professors dislike dialogue, feeling that it is "a pulp writing tool." But I have always found that the reader's interest perks up when they see those quotation marks whether you are writing fiction or an article.
Having said that, it's important that the dialogue is about something important. So the first thing to cut in dialogue is small-talk.
You only need to write dialogue when they are talking about something important. The rest can go into narrative and a lot can be assumed. Nobody says, "HI, how are you?"
For instance, take the following story situation:
In Scene one, Sally’s brother John was in a 40-car pile up on the Interstate. He lies for hours, pinned in the car, then finally is picked up by paramedics and taken to the Emergency Room, by an ambulance. There he is rushed into surgery while (end of scene hook) a nurse tosses his wallet to the ward clerk, yelling, “Call his next-of-kin.”
Ordinarily we'd assume the next scene would be Sister Sally answering the phone, but that would not tell the reader anything that isn't already known. Better to skip right on to what happens after Sally finds out.
In scene two: Sally rushes out of the house and meets her neighbor, Paul, a friend of John’s.
Sally slammed down the phone, grabbed her jacket, and headed for the door, frantic to get to the hospital and find out how badly John was hurt. (Opening Hook) It wasn’t until she actually got into the garage that she remembered John had been driving her car the night before, because his was in the repair shop. (Shows confusion caused by the emergency situation) Without a second thought for her damaged car (shows her first concern is her brother’s life), Sally hurried out to the street and all but ran toward the bus stop.
Half a block down the street, Paul Anderson, a friend of John’s, put down his rake and caught up with Sally.
“Where are you going in such a hurry? What’s wrong?” (Now in reality he would probably have said, “Hey, Sally. Wait a minute. I want to talk to you.” But that would not have moved the story forward. Dialogue should always move the story forward and it should be about something important.)
“It’s, John! He’s in the hospital.” Sally told Paul about the accident. (Instead of a whole replay, use narrative. No need to repeat all the action about the 40-car pile-up and John’s being pinned in the car for hours — the reader already knows that.)
“No wonder you are upset. Come on, I’ll drive you.” Paul took off his gardening gloves and headed for his pickup. By the time he got the door open, Sally was already waiting inside.
“Hurry!.” Sally gave Paul a worried look. “I have to find out how bad it is.” (End of scene hook.)
* * *
Scene three: Sally and Paul rush in to question the doctors.
So maybe I spoke too soon when I said "Dialogue is money in the bank." It does tend to make the reader's stake in the story go up, as long as it's about something important that the reader hasn't heard before.