About Writing: Trim Your Dialogue

Every word of dialogue in your writing needs to earn its place. If it doesn’t deserve to be there, cut it. If it doesn’t need to be there, cut it. If you’re not sure it should be there, cut it.

Let’s take a quick look at the following two lines:

JANE

By the way, where is Shona?

DAVE

She has gone to the pub.

The first cuts to be made should be obvious. We tend to speak in contractions, so where is becomes where’s unless you’re Data in Star Trek, or your character has a distinct idiom of speech.

So, already we’ve got:

JANE

By the way, where’s Shona?

DAVE

She’s gone to the pub.

And it’s better. But it still needs cutting

If you only remember one thing about dialogue, remember this: If you can cut a word without changing the meaning, then cut it.

Using this rule, we can remove she’s, because gone to the pub still means the same thing. Do we need that by the way? The change of subject is readily apparent from the changing of the subject. But we can still remove three more words and still keep everything clear.

JANE

Where’s Shona?

DAVE

Pub.

We’ve cut nine words from twelve, and still we have the same meaning. And the upshot is, our dialogue is much better.

The next question to ask is, do we need this information to further the plot? If not, cut the remaining three words, and move on to the next scene.

If you can cut one hundred percent of the dialogue without affecting your plot, and remain true to your characters’ voice, do it. It doesn’t need to be there.

Trim Your Dialogue
Trim Your Dialogue

2 thoughts on “About Writing: Trim Your Dialogue

  • April 18, 2013 at 10:31 am
    Permalink

    Good tips!

    My other pet peeve is tag lines: she argued/he interjected/she moaned … if you have to use one use SAID!

    Aghhh!

  • April 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm
    Permalink

    Elmore Leonard agrees with you.

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