I’ve seen dialogue from new writers that was too realistic. It included um, uh, and other fillers that we use when we speak. It rambled. Things were mentioned that no one cares about. It didn’t make sense. When I suggested cuts and tightening, the response was, “But that’s how people talk!” Yes, it is. When we talk we can all be pretty boring at times. Our thoughts aren’t always organized. We go off tangent. We use filler words. We see something that sidetracks us. Squirrel! We forget what we were talking about. We talk over others.
But writing fiction isn’t a record of what goes on in the real world. In some ways, it is better than the real world as it leaves out the dull parts. In fiction, every piece of dialogue has a purpose. It might be character development; it might be plot related. It moves the story forward. It’s intentional. It doesn’t bore the reader. We don’t need all the greetings and good-byes in a story. Nor simple pleasant chats. We want tension and disagreements. We want flirting and romance. We want questions raised that we’ve been thinking as a reader. "The dialogue is generally the most agreeable part of a novel, but it is only so long as it tends in some way to the telling of the main story." – Anthony Trollope
Does that mean a fictional character can never stumble or go off track? Of course not. Used judiciously these are all appropriate. Um, er, and other pauses can show a character’s nervousness or uncertainty. It might indicate lying. A character going off track might be changing the subject deliberately. A character might ramble to show tiredness or drug or alcohol influence. Or one character might be a rambler that other characters are always interrupting.
Readers will stick with characters they care about. Our job as writers is to make it easy for the reader to care. If we’re bogging down all the dialogue, it’s too easy for the reader to give up.
"Dialogue is like a rose bush – it often improves after pruning. I recommend you rewrite your dialogue until it is as brief as you can get it. This will mean making it quite unrealistically to the point. That is fine. Your readers don't want realistic speech, they want talk which spins the story along." – Nigel Watts
Many of us share our buy links* with others. But are your links clean? While doing a project for my publisher I discovered many authors didn’t have clean links. (I also didn’t myself for one site!) Or in other words, they had extraneous letters, numbers and symbols that were not actually part of the real link. How does this happen? Often, when we do a search the url shows part of the search as well as what was found.
Let me give you some examples.
For Barnes and Noble many links included this information after the real link: ?ean= followed by a bunch of numbers. What is actually needed? http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/book-title-authorfirstname-authorlastname/10digitnumber. (In some cases there was a /p/ instead of the /w/.) In my book’s case when I search for “alone by sm ford” on the B&N website, my address bar shows: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alone-sm-ford/1124041307?ean=2940158495786. However, this is all the address that is needed to reach the book: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alone-sm-ford/1124041307.
Many Amazon links included /ref= followed by numbers and letters and special characters. Often, you’ll see something like keywords= followed by what you searched for connected with + signs. Here’s the url I get back when I go to Amazon.com and search for my book “alone by sm ford”-- https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=alone+by+sm+ford. This is a search url, not a direct link to the book. By clicking on the book title itself, I get https://www.amazon.com/Alone-SM-Ford-ebook/dp/B01HR7O0Y0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504655116&sr=8-1&keywords=alone+by+sm+ford. All I need though is https://www.amazon.com/Alone-SM-Ford-ebook/dp/B01HR7O0Y0. See how it specifies the type of book?
For itunes books the extra info was much shorter. Usually it was ?mt=11. Removing those six characters made a cleaner url.
The kobo links all looked clean. They were usually in this format: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/book-title. If the book title wasn’t unique enough it had a dash and a number after the title.
Smashwords books had clean urls too usually with an id number. Here’s mine: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/650072
Fortunately, most websites give clean urls. For example, I entered “how to write devotionals” in my browser. When I clicked on a choice, the url was clean and readable: http://devotional.upperroom.org/how-to-write
Are your urls for your buy links clean? Check them out. I’m off to fix my problem one.
*buy link – the direct link to a product on a site that sells the product
Clean reads are books without profanity and gratuitous sex. Here’s why that’s what I write.
First, I believe in not dishonoring God by using his name or his son’s name inappropriately.
But what about other curse words? Often, I think people use them for several reasons—the pain they are in, anger, bad habit, an attempt to prove something, for shock value, or laziness. I should probably add ignorance that swearing is displeasing to God.
This summer at the LA SCBWI conference Kwame Alexander read a piece of one of his poems and his interviewer asked him why he hadn’t used swear words in a certain line. First, he told us his mom was going to read the book. Secondly, he taught poetry for 9 years and taught his students not to use profanity. Third, who his publisher is. But because he couldn’t use the convenient short cut of a curse he had to be more creative. He wrote something no one had heard before. How cool is that?
I also don’t enjoy reading a lot of foul language, so why would I write it? And the more I don’t hear it, read it, see it, the less likely I’m tempted to use it myself. Does anyone really need to be exposed to it?
Note: It’s actually more shocking when someone who doesn’t use profanity uses it than when someone who habitually uses it swears.
Sex is a wonderful thing between a husband and wife. And that’s where I believe it belongs—between them. Not on the pages of any book I write.
Also, when I write an “adult” book, I want it to be safe for a younger audience. I so remember reading Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground as a young teen. There’s a scene after a visual break where the husband is putting his socks back on. It meant nothing to me. Later I reread the book as an adult and the light dawned—oh, they made love. My daughter talks about having the same discovery as an adult. It was so subtle our teen selves missed it. But our adult selves enjoyed the inside knowledge of the small hint.
Our imagination is wonderful at filling in the blanks. I like leaving some room for the reader’s imagination.
An honestly, I think a long-awaited kiss can be very romantic. One of my favorite scenes in Pride and Prejudice (the movie with Kiera Knightley and Matthew McFadden) is the closing scene—the first time they actually kiss.
If you also write clean, I’d love to hear your reasons why.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.