To my mind, nothing slows down an otherwise promising book of fiction than endless descriptive paragraphs. Not matter how pretty, how witty, how elegant, I can only take so many of those before I start to yawn. Why? Because I care about people, and I want to know about people -- the narrator, the characters, what they're thinking, feeling, going through, planning, scheming, anguishing over.
And I don't want you to TELL me what they thinking and feeling. I want you to SHOW me. And I want you to do it through dialog.
A quick example:
Joe sat at the kitchen table angrily sipping his coffee.Okay, as far as it goes, but how about this:
His partner rolled his eyes, grabbed his keys off the counter and left.
"The way I feel right now, I want to take this coffee cup and bash your fucking teeth in," Joe snapped.Dialog keeps the action moving and creates a sense of intimacy that descriptive passages often fail to achieve.
"Take a number," his partner replied, grabbing his keys off the counter.
When I read dialog, the pages fly by.
I used a lot of dialog in SHAKING THE SUGAR TREE, my recent bestseller about a gay single father whose deaf son helps him find a boyfriend. I knew I had a great story to tell, but I didn't want to be the one who told it -- I wanted my characters to do that. After all, it was their story, not mine.
I chose a first person narrative so that the narrator could speak directly about his thoughts and feelings. And I resisted the urge to have him "explain" the thoughts and feelings of the people in his life, preferring they speak for themselves.
If you're looking for ways to brighten up your writing -- give it zest, energy, movement -- dialog is a potent tool.
In real life, dialog is how we encounter others, how we learn about ourselves. Life is a long conversation with those in our lives. Each conversation adds to the sum total of who we are and how we understand ourselves, and how others understand us.
It works in life; it works in books, too.
- Nick Wilgus is the bestselling author of SHAKING THE SUGAR TREE and other novels. Visit his website or connect or Facebook.