How to edit dialogue

This post will explore how to trim your dialogue beats so they read easier with a better flow and pace.

This post will explore how to trim your dialogue beats to make them read easier with a better flow and pace.

rough cover for the WIP novella I’m currently working on

I’ve taken screen shots so I can explain my changes and why I made them. Here is the original passage I’ll be using as an example:

In the rough draft the dialogue is blocked out with the action. This seems logical until you read it out loud making you realize the action is slowing down. The reader may be confused as to who is speaking.

Let’s try some things to improve it. First let’s examine the line I’ve highlighted in yellow.

Do I really need this line? I like the sound of the flip flops but it doesn’t tell me anything that I don’t already know. Let’s try it with this line removed and see if the flow of the dialogue is improved.

That looks much better already! Now the dialogue is snappier between the main character and the antagonist.

I still have action sandwiched between the dialogue. Can this be improved? Without losing the context of the action?

First, a small tweak: I remove the “hush now” in the highlighted line below. That extra wasn’t need and is rather self-evident. Don’t bash your reader over the head with simplistic stuff – toss it out.

The paragraph above the line “shut your piehole” seems rather large and bulky. It’s slowing things down so let’s improve it.

Read the before (the paragraph before the highlighted sentence in the example above) and after (below) versions. A 28 word sentence is now 20 words. Action (and the drama) is improved!

Hm reviewing this, I still think I can make another minor improvement. Look at this bit of description I’ve highlighted and where it’s located in the flow of the action.

I’ve moved it up so it joins the action of when Brigit enters the closet. To tidy up paragraphs group your action together, separate from where your characters are talking.

As you write and edit your dialogue some things to keep in mind:

  • Is it clear who is speaking? Sometimes when we use too much action around our spoken sentences, it can be easy for the reader to lose track.

    This is especially true if you have a lot of characters in the scene and action is happening. I don’t know about you but if I’m reading an exciting scene I actually read faster too!
  • If you don’t want to delete the action because it’s too important, can you trim it? Make it more punchy? Think of it as a musical tempo – too long and drawn out and the action will slow in the reader’s mind.

    The faster the action is happening, the shorter your sentences and words. This works especially well if you are an author who uses long sentences elsewhere and shorter sentences during action scenes.
  • On dialogue, is what you wrote necessary to reveal or drive the scene? Please don’t have your characters saying things like “okay” just to fill out a response. That is boring. Instead have your character give a “sullen nod.”

    Always ask: is what the character saying revealing something about him/her in the scene? If not, TOSS IT OUT!
  • Next, can you trim the dialogue? People don’t speak in long expositions. If they do, the others around them are yawning. Study real conversations and remember you want the action AND the conversation to flow naturally.

The above passages is from something I’m working on now – a contemporary alternative universe where the Fae attend college next to humans. It’s a novella that I hope to complete by the end of the summer.

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