How to write dialogue when you HATE it

DIALOGUE. You either love it (like Hemingway) or you loathe it (like me). Proust likened dialogue to stained glass and the prose around it like the supporting frame. For me, the prose around it is the frame, the wall and the whole GOSHDARN building.

It’s not that I find writing dialogue difficult, but I tend to be a bit OCD when it comes to punctuation. I like my page to have as little apostrophes as possible—that means MINIMAL contractions or possessive nouns. My OCD also flows through to as little quotation marks as possible. Of course, if my OCD is interfering with my story then I HAVE to take a deep breath and LET IT GO.

In this post, I’m going to give you a couple of handy hints on how to use dialogue sparingly in your novels. Of course, unless your novel is set in a non-verbal world, you won’t be able to eschew (fancy word, I know) dialogue altogether.

A lot of writers use dialogue in order to SHOW, not TELL. I think there are many instances where this has the opposite effect.

For example:

“Are you angry with me?” Sarah asks.

“What do you think?” Tara responds.

“I think you’re either angry with me or you really hate that pair of jeans you just wrestled into your drawer.”

This could EASILY be communicated with action, rather than dialogue:

Sarah stands in the doorway warily, watching as Tara wrestles with a pair of jeans whose legs have somehow become knotted. She gives up, stuffing the knotted jeans into a drawer and slamming it shut.

Another way you can reduce those quotation marks in your manuscript is to paraphrase dialogue (I picked up this handy trick from NONE OTHER THAN Miss Jane Austen). Like so:

Sarah waits in the doorway for a response to her question—the olive branch she offered ten, eleven, twelve seconds ago. She watches as Tara stuffs a pair of jeans into a drawer and slams it shut.

Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, she counts silently, wondering whether Tara will open up about why she’s angry, or whether she’ll snap the olive branch in two.

Of course, as I alluded to in the intro—if the best way to convey something in a novel is through dialogue then USE IT. It also helps make your novel digestible. Nothing is worse than a reader being confronted with slabs of dense prose—NOT EVEN DIALOGUE!

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