This blog outlines how to self edit five common dialogue mistakes from your fiction manuscript. It is the fifth instalment of my series of blogs that help indie authors – like you – self edit your fiction manuscript effectively.
As a professional editor and proofreader, as well as an indie author, I hope these blogs will help you develop the skills and confidence to edit your own novel to a very high standard. When you then go on to secure the services of a freelance editor and/or proofreader before self publishing, you will know that you have already given your novel a great chance of success.
As editor Kris Spisak explains in episode 493 of The Creative Penn podcast, using a character’s name too often in speech or dialogue is unnatural. It wouldn’t happen in a real life conversation, so it’s unnecessary to include it in your manuscript too (unless it’s a particular character’s personality quirk!).
“Hi, Annie. Everything okay? Do you need any help?”
“No, I’ve got it, Eddie,” Annie said, carrying the box inside.
“Okay, Annie. Just let me know if you need me later,” said Eddie.
Be aware of how many times each character is addressing other people. Every time a different character speaks, ensure it begins on a new line, and use dialogue tags with pronouns (she/her/he/him/they) to make it clear who is speaking to whom. Doing these things will negate the need for repeating names too often.
“Hi, Annie. Everything okay? Need any help?”
“No, I’ve got it,” she said, carrying the box inside.
Characters exchanging pleasantries in a novel is generally a no-no. Although pleasantries have their place in real life, anything that doesn’t reveal something about the characters, or drive the story forward, slows down prose. Readers don’t want to read about characters pointlessly discussing the weather, or something as equally mundane, without good reason.
“How are you?” he asked.
“I’m fine, thanks. How are you?” she replied.
“I’m alright, thank you. Nice weather we’re having.”
“Hmm, yes it is.”
If the pleasant greeting scenario is not there to convey something specific, such as nervousness or awkwardness between characters (as could possibly be interpreted in the example above), consider getting to the point of their conversation(s) more quickly. If there is no real substance to, or reason for, a conversation containing pleasantries, consider deleting it completely.
Characters repeating or echoing their own words, or another character’s words, could be considered padding. Repetition is an effective technique when it’s used deliberately and/or stylistically, but not when it’s used irrelevantly.
“It’s gone, boss.”
“What do you mean?” he asked. “What do you mean ‘it’s gone’?”
In the above example, there are two instances of characters repeating lines. However, once will suffice.
“It’s gone, boss.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
Just like pleasantries, repeated introductions aren’t necessary in fiction, even if a character is introducing themselves several times, such as a detective about to interview a witness, or a victim.
“Good evening, sir. My name is Detective Smith and this is my partner, Detective Jones,” Detective Smith said, as they both held up their badges.
In this example, if this is not the first time the characters have introduced themselves, it’s okay to tell (rather than show) the readers what’s happening to get to the purpose of their visit.
The detectives introduced themselves, showing their badges.
It’s a waste of words to keep re-introducing a main character in your novel. If you have established them well enough initially, readers don’t need them to repeat their name(s) and/or role(s) frequently. Fans of police procedure/detective novels, for example, will be familiar with the conventions of the genre, so will understand detectives’ roles, without needing to read repeated introductions every time the characters speak to civilians.
Unless your character is reciting a speech, reading a passage of something aloud, or is extraordinarily articulate, beware of over-long monologues in your manuscript. Not only do they make the prose dense, they also look quite blocky on the page once it’s been formatted/typeset (depending on your budget/preferences). Although monologues still have their place in classic literature, modern texts (particularly genre fiction) tend towards faster paced dialogue.
Try streamlining your character’s speech (perhaps using some of the earlier tips in this post!), or splitting up your character’s monologue with dialogue tags, or action tags, or including another character’s dialogue or action(s) at appropriate intervals.
If you have found this blog outlining how to self edit five common dialogue mistakes useful, check out the other blogs in my self editing series:
How to self edit your novel: spelling, punctuation and grammar, How to self edit your novel: clichés and common phrases, How to self edit your novel: repetition and How to self edit your novel: the three main editing stages.
A-Z of Storytelling Techniques for Authors is a fantastic resource for investigating different devices to avoid using tired techniques in your writing. Click the image below to get it now!