Friday, August 19, 2011

Comfortable Silence

I dropped my oldest off at his high school orientation yesterday and I cried as I watched him walk into the building. It was the same feeling I had as I watched him climb the steps onto the bus when he was five. I cried both times. I don't like letting him go. But this post isn't about that - it's about something else.

So, as I pulled away from the high school my younger son said, "Mom, let's go out to breakfast." We went to a local diner, and as I took my seat I instantly noticed an older married couple across the way. They were both plump with grey hair. One sipped cranberry juice, the other iced tea. And they sat quietly. As my ten-year-old chattered away about his new backpack and summer reading, I kept lifting my eyes to steal glances at them. They looked so comfortable being quiet. So at ease.

In between my bites of creamed chipped beef over a Belgian waffle, my brain churned. Sometimes, when we're writing dialogue, it's okay to let our characters not respond - to be silent. This is something I learned from the genius that is my agent, Sarah LaPolla. One of her line edit notes: don't have her answer - let his question hang. She was right, as usual.

She also taught me how to lessen the "ping pong dialogue" throughout my manuscripts. When I wrote my first book, I wrote my dialogue exactly how a conversation would go in real life. I had characters going back and forth and back and forth - many, many lines of dialogue were completely unnecessary in moving my plot forward, and instead, bogged it down.

We obviously need dialogue in novels. The question is: how much? I challenge you to go through your WIP and cut the extraneous dialogue. Tighten it up. Ask yourself: does this character exchange serve the story? Is it necessary?

Perhaps some time in a diner with an iced tea and your WIP, lost in comfortable silence together?