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Revising Chant - VII: Details and Dialog

All righty then.  Revisions for Chant completed.  I'm still not completely happy with one of the fixes, but trying new things is now becoming counterproductive.  And I'm choosing not to make one of the changes on my list in the hope other edits make it superfluous.

This revision round was, more than anything, an exercise in understanding and utilizing telling details.  I took a good look at Patricia Wrede's post here, and kept it in mind as I worked.  Nearly every change involved a few words of clarification, or a sentence or two expanding on an idea, or changing a word because of connotation rather than meaning.  Beta-reader notes on individual lines that stood out for them helped me identify where I had "telling details" that worked, and analyze why.

And in a story that exceeds 130K, the details matter.  Not everyone is a fast reader.  Telling details not only help move the story and establish the world, they help the reader hold on to what's important from chapter to chapter.  (The wrong details will leave the reader wondering why the book wasn't trimmed to 100K!)

Then there is "telling dialog," which has nothing to do with show-don't-tell.  Like telling details, bits of dialog can do an amazing amount of work for the writer. 

I had the opportunity to work with an incredible director for six years of Shakespeare in repertory.  We actors were expected to learn and understand the layers of every line.  Our first read-throughs of a standard script took twelve to fifteen hours.  I wish I could say the experience taught me how to write perfect, memorable, quotable dialog on a first draft.  Alas, no.  But it did give me an awareness and appreciation of good dialog. 

Certainly our narrative is important.  But the words that come from a characters mouth can deliver information, move the plot, expose character strengths or flaws, the socioeconomic standing in relation to the others in conversation,  emotional state, intellect and level of interest in the matter--as well as demonstrate cultural norms, expectations, and forbidden notions.  Best part?  Most of that creeps in without readers realizing it.  It's just good dialog.

In my oh-so-humble opinion, dialog gets short shrift in most writing workshops.  I think that's why so much dialog, even in really wonderful stories, sounds flat or stilted when read aloud.  We talk a great deal about plot, character arc, reader expectations, worldbuilding, and so on.  But other than the obligatory discussion about dialog tags, with a little chat about character consistency thrown in, we don't talk much about the talking our characters do.  

Why is that, when dialog offers such diverse opportunities?


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 7th, 2012 01:58 pm (UTC)
I think some writers don't hear the dialogue, they are only looking at the words. Or they are hearing it in a certain style (like Joss Whedon high school, which is now dated, and never was like any real high schooler talked, but for a while high school = Buffyspeak)
Jun. 8th, 2012 02:46 am (UTC)
Even with only looking at words, though, there is so much that can be done with dialog. In real life, conversation is often what drives our daily "plot."
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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