Thought I’d excerpt a passage from my new EBook in the “Writing Your First Mystery” series, just to let the crime fiction world know I’m still out there beavering away.
Keeping Tension Snapping in Your Dialogue
- If you have trouble with dialogue, read your piece aloud. Then quiet yourself. Fall into a daze of non-thought, then listen within to your characters talking to each other. See if you can “hear” them. What kind of words do they use with each other? Are they slangy? Terse? Colloquial? Profane?
- You can learn about them by “listening” to them in quiet moments within yourself. After all, that’s where they live, isn’t it? They are you. They aren’t you. Imagine everyday conversation. How do they talk about needing new tires for the car? A kid’s bad spelling test?
- Charge right into a passage of dialogue. You don’t need greetings, chitchat, comment on the weather, or compliments.
- Supporting characters can show doubt or disbelief about your main character’s goals or plans in the curl of a lip, a snort. “Yeah, well …” has a wealth of meanings.
- Watch out for passages of retelling something that has already happened or commenting on events that are happening instead of showing them. Exchange exposition for confrontations between players, arguments, teasing, and misunderstandings.
- Give some of the lines to somebody with a different POV. Save up a witticism for here.
- Examine the visual impact of your dialogue sections. Tense dialogue contains lots of short sentences, fragments and white space. Watch out for dialogue that goes on for pages (unless you’re Robert B. Parker or Elmore Leonard, and none of us are).
- If you’re building to a toe-to-toe confrontation, don’t do it over a four-page argument scene. Break it up. Take a phone call. Interrupt the gathering storm with an announcement that dinner is ready. You’ve built an expectation that this isn’t over yet, and your readers will stick with you to see who prevails and what happens in this confrontation.
Any thoughts on this? You’re welcome to agree/disagree …
Mar Preston is an award-winning author of six “How to” EBooks on “Writing Your First Mystery” as well as seven police procedural novels. This excerpt is taken from a new one called “Writing Suspense in Your Mystery Fiction,” finished, but as yet unpublished. Stay tuned.