3 Common Dialogue Mistakes
The ability to write convincing dialogue that both drives a plot forward and assists character development is something that every writer should aim to achieve. Learning how do this early on in the writing process can save you a lot of time when it comes to working on revisions.
What is Dialogue?
Dialogue is defined as a conversation between two or more characters in any written text. In the context of a novel, it’s the stuff you typically find inside quotation marks (also known as speech marks).
The Importance of Good Dialogue
As a freelance book editor, I’ve assisted many authors to condense and expand conversations between their characters into concise, effective dialogue that works to engage the reader and serve a purpose in the framework of their plot. Below are 3 common dialogue mistakes that I come across regularly while I'm editing:
You love your characters. Your readers love your characters. As creator of this fictional universe, you feel personally responsible for delivering everything and more. You want to divulge ALL the secrets and swoon-worthy moments your characters have to offer, and sometimes (be honest) you have a tendency to get a little carried away in the moment…
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. The love we have for our characters dies hard. But overindulging in lengthy conversation too often can leave room for unnecessary information to filter through, which you’ll need to keep a clear track of to avoid confusing readers later on in the manuscript.
For example, in conversation about which dress she should wear on her date tonight, your MC revealed that she hates the colour red…so, five chapters later, why is her bedroom wall painted red? Slip-ups like this can be so easily avoided by really concentrating on the dialogue in your story and limiting it to only what is necessary to drive your plot forwards. If you insist on adding extra detail in, be sure to make note of it all for future reference.
A good copy editor will pick up on any inconsistencies in your novel, like the example given above.
2. Telling Not Showing
It’s so important to strike the correct balance between dialogue and description when writing fiction. Since I started work as a freelance book editor, I’ve dealt with a lot of manuscripts that try to tell too much of the story through character dialogue, without including much description in between.
One fool-proof way to know if you’re ‘telling’ too much is to pay attention to the length of your dialogue. If there are only one or two lines of dialogue amidst longer paragraphs of description, you’re probably striking the right balance. But if your dialogue stretches over many paragraphs with very little description in between, you might want to read back through and ask yourself if anything that your character is saying could be shown rather than told.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to allow your characters time to tell their own story, but, more often than not, manuscripts become considerably more powerful when writers relieve their characters of storytelling responsibilities and rely less on dialogue to provide every little detail.
3. Losing Focus
It’s not uncommon for dialogue to stray off-topic, particularly when you’re writing scenes that involve conflict or confession between two characters. Taking steps to plan where you want your characters’ conversations to take them will help you to avoid losing focus as you write.
If you plan your stories, you’ll already have an idea of the purpose each scene will serve. You’ll know what needs to happen in order to get your characters from Point A to Point B, so you’re already well-equipped to take them on this journey by utilising effective dialogue.
If you don’t plan your stories, this task might be more difficult to achieve—but it isn’t impossible. Before you begin writing, ask yourself where you want your characters to be by the end of the scene, and then consider what needs to happen in order for them to get there.
Once you’ve got a clear idea, structure each occurrence of dialogue like a plot arc. How will the conversation be initiated? What will happen to drive your characters to make a decision? Will there be conflict between them? Finally, how will this piece of dialogue come to its conclusion?
Giving your dialogue a focus before you begin writing will ultimately help you to stay on track.
Ready for Revisions?
If you’ve completed the first draft of your manuscript and you’re ready to start revising, my affordable book editing services can help to set you off on the right foot. My manuscript critiquing service will provide you with a full list of focus areas to go back and revise, or, if you’d like more than just advice, my copy editing service can help you to achieve your manuscript goals.