The Romance of Chastisement

The Romance of Chastisement

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Writer's Tip 'O the Day

A good many stories are told in dialog between the characters. Dialog is good. It lends an immediacy to the story and makes the characters live. One of the greatest writers of dialog in American fiction is Elmore Leonard. Take a look at the snappy dialog of Get Shorty or Rum Punch. But there can be a problem with dialog too. Consider the following:

"Get the paddle."

"You wouldn't dare."

"Try me."

"You can't. I'll go home to mother."

"You'll do nothing of the kind."

I see a lot of this. It's an extreme example, but what we have here are talking heads. There is no word picture that is being painted. The reader has to imagine what the characters look like and what they are doing.

Here is the revised version.

Bob pointed at the closet door. "Get the paddle."

Mary put her hands on her hips and stamped her foot petulantly. "You wouldn't dare."

"Try Me." Now Mary was worried. The determined look on his face said it all. He advanced toward her.

"I'll go home to mother." She started backing up and clapped her hands to her seat in that seemingly universal response of naughty children.

Bob seized her wrist and opened the closet door. Taking the paddle from its hook, he sat on the bed and flipped her across his knees. "You'll do nothing of the kind."

The point here is that if you write a lot of dialog, if you tell the story primarily through dialog, add description so the reader sees what you want them to see. Otherwise, it's just talking heads.

1 comment:

Hermione said...

Rollin, your enhancement of the dialogue makes the scene come alive in my mind.

Thanks for the excellent tip.