Our editing tips over the next few months are part of a series called Dial up Your Dialogue, by Writing Your Life editor Teresa Bruce. Be sure to follow along each month for Teresa’s fantastic tips to energize your dialogue.
Skip the small stuff. Purposeful conversation moves your story forward to convey important information while deepening your readers’ engagement. Dialogue should enable us to eavesdrop on characters’ motives, mannerisms, and meaning.
Polite spoken conversation includes greetings, inquiries, and farewells, but readers prefer skimming past such niceties. When editing your characters’ words, be ruthless about deleting the parts that stall your reader from moving forward within the story. (In the example below, boldface indicates starting and stopping points surrounding the boring, stricken text that should be deleted.)
The phone rang, and Florence picked it up. “Hello? This is Florence speaking.”
“Hello, Florence. This is Gordon.”
“Hi, Gordon. How are you and Helen?”
“We’re fine, Florence. How are you and Isaac?”
“Oh, we’re fine too. Thanks for asking.”
“Sure.” Gordon cleared his throat. “Well, Florence, the reason I’m calling is I’m worried about Joyce and Kirk.”
Florence frowned before remembering Gordon couldn’t see her. “Gordon, are you talking about the elderly couple on the north end of the block?”
“Yes. Their daughter called me and said—”
“Yes. She’s afraid her parents need help clearing their yard before the next storm gets here. They’re exhausted from hauling patio furniture in and out so many times this season.” Gordon sighed as if empathizing with their fatigue. “I offered to help, but they refused.”
“Hmm.” Florence closed her eyes and tapped her foot three times before her eyelids popped up. “I have an idea.”
By cutting out the polite but boring parts of Gordon and Florence’s conversation, we keep our readers awake and interested in the important aspects of the unfolding story.