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?


JEM said...

That sounds so lovely! I don't know what it says about me that I look forward to being old and retired and having breakfast every morning in a cute little diner.

Susan R. Mills said...

I need to do that for sure! I could probably cut a lot.

rebeccaenzor said...

I have floating-head syndrome: my characters just talk and talk and talk! I'm trying to go through and cut out all the extra right now, and maybe add in a little scenery so they have bodies and places to go with all that dialogue.

K. M. Walton said...

JEM: It says you enjoy the slow moments in life, and that is good stuff.

Susan: Once I put the "dialogue glasses" on and re-read my writing I cut out TONS.

Rebecca: The fact that you're cognizant of it is fantastic. Cut away....

Ron Smith said...

Brilliant advice.

Aimee said...

Yay, more writing advice! I love posts like these. :3

Whenever I write a short story or whatever it is, I never put much though into dialouge at all; I don't try and make the conversations sound realistic, I don't try to make the characters reactive or something like that, it just an oblivious bad habit of mine. I always pay more attention to description and plot development, and probably more than I should, because as you can see, my sentences have tendencies to get wordy and go on and on and on endlessly and it gets hard to read because the last period was, what? In the previous paragraph.

More than once I had a whole paragraph of one sentence. Oy. -_-

Yeah. As you can see, I am very naive, unfortunately. This post opened my eyes to include more character perspective in my writings and not just descriptions of what they're wearing that day. And of course, when I'm writing their dialouge now, I will be both more cautious of how they talk to stay true to themselves, and how MUCH they talk for the sake of the story.

Thanks for the help. Again. ;-D

Joanne Fritz said...

That's very wise advice, Kate. My WIP has waaay too much dialogue in it. Time to cut!

Christina Lee said...

Brilliant (as usual)! And I love that you watched that couple (I've done that too)! Many, many HUGS!

K. M. Walton said...

Ron: Why thank you!

Aimee: It sounds like you had your own writerly ah-ha moment in your comment!

Joanne: Happy revising : )

Christine: Why thank you!

Adina West said...

Just reading a few novels recently and I noticed how good some writers' dialogue is and how bad others...I think you're right though, that cutting the extraneous can allow what remains to shine the brighter.

lindy said...

Such great advice. I'm going to go through my dialogue again with this in mind. Thank you!

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