I can’t stand it when people speech at me rather than giving me the opportunity to have a two way dialogue with them. In the same way, I’m not keen on characters in stories talking for a long time without letting the other character(s) have their turn. And, when you think about it, the character’s probably aren’t keen on it either.
As well as that, it pays to be nice to your people. Give them a drink of water every now and again. Let them cough, clear their throat or think about what they’re trying to say. It just ain’t natural for someone to talk for a long time.
So yeah – break up your dialogue into bite sized pieces. Here’s how:
Remember that your characters are in a physical location and let your readers perceive that scene. Tell them about the sights, sounds and that disgusting smell when the person they are talking to burps after eating that chilli-dog for lunch.
Stick to the plot
Just as you don’t often get descriptions of people going to the loo in books, cut out the banal parts of conversations. Focus on the words that contribute to the story. No-one (apart from the odd grannyphile) wants to know what the character’s grandma said when they spoke to them the day before yesterday if Gran does not otherwise appear in the book, so leave that sort of stuff on the cutting room floor of your mind. That should cut down on the dialogue a little.
Cut the exposition
Exposition in dialogue is all about characters telling readers lots of information about why this and that happened. Whilst it might seem like you’re saving time when you infodump in this way, there are better methods to get information over without resorting to such a crude (and potentially boring) technique. Instead, give your readers a set of bright, shiny images to wrap their interest around. In other words show them a series of pretty pictures rather than telling the facts.
Silence speaks volumes
Don’t be afraid to let your characters pick their nose and stare out of the window every now and again. Okay, maybe not the picking the nose part, but definitely give them time to pause and take stock. Let the reader see their thoughts if your POV allows. A sweet spell of introspection can break up speech quite nicely all by itself.
But if you can’t or don’t want to do any of that, then at least make what is being said interesting. Again – show rather than tell by making the characters give us strong images to tickle our jaded mental palettes. Build tension and drama by letting the characters move the plot forward with their words. Reveal the inner workings of the characters by what you choose to let them tell us. In summary – make it all as juicy as you can.
One of the nicest things for me about a page of dialogue is that I can turn it more quickly. This is down to there being a bigger percentage of white space. Don’t take that away from me by letting your character talk too much.
I, as your reader, thank you in advance.