Seems a lot of writers talk too much. Not in person. But as the narrator.
I’ve been going over a manuscript (well… six or eight) and getting them up and running on Amazon as ebooks. Reading through, and yes, reading aloud, I find I’m quite talkative outside the quotes.
I had noticed this before, so after a seminar on dialogue and dialect I paused. I pondered. I paced. Until one day I plummeted into the deep end of dialect for dummies and came out with quote marks all over the pearly-white page.
I had lost my voice. My characters had taken over. And I loved it!
Have you ever heard someone say something stupid? I’ll figure that’s a yes. Now, write it down and respond. See? You have two characters. Keep them talking, bantering, chatting, schmoozing, or gossiping. Now do that for let’s say… five hundred words. Are they done yet? My first attempt was with two men who bantered and belittled and bickered for 2,700 words. No narrative. No taglines.
I wrote one story where five characters cussed, cheated, and often became cantankerous. They kept me laughing for 5,700 words!
I’m not saying you should write in all dialogue, but an exercise in all dialogue will help you see how easy it is for the characters to tell the story without the narrator trying to hog the scene.
Got that dialogue written?
Okay, now go back and put in some brief descriptive narrative. Just enough to let the reader see each character’s expressions, mannerisms or physical attributes, and to let them hear each character’s tone of voice.
Now, if you want to plumped it up, without using fillers, GMOs (okay, I stole an acronym and reassigned a new meaning–Grossly Manipulative Oration), or unnecessary taglines, you can add narrative to describe the place and/or time this dialogue occurs.
Example? Yep. 543 words in the original, all dialogue story.
Fair Trade Agreement
“Whatcha got there, Ollie?”
“Well, Danny, I got me one’a them new fangled thingamajigers. I seen it over to the county fair and just had t’have me one.”
“Whatcha s’pose t’do with it?”
“I ain’t figgered that part out just yet.”
“Then what’d y’buy it for?”
“Cause I knowed it’d look good in my yard.”
“Well, Ollie, I’d have t’agree with’ya. It don’t look half bad.”
“I’m figgerin’ on puttin’ it over by the mailbox and paintin’ it a real nice shade a’blue and maybe plantin’ a few petunia’s ‘round the bottom of it.”
“Martha oughta like’at.”
“Can you keep a secret, Danny?”
“When I hauled this thing over here Martha was so damn proud’a me that she poured herself a nice hot tub’a water. She’s in there now, soakin’ in the bubbles. Said she’d have somethin’ for me when she was done. Alls I hafta do is move it just a little closer to the mailbox and then I’ll be ‘bout ready to head in a get my su’prise. I’ll leave it at that and let you do the figgerin’ on what she’s got waitin’ for me when I go back in.”
“Maybe she’s gettin’ all clean and sweet smellin’ for a li’l wrestlin’ on the ol’ box springs.”
“That’s what I’m a’hopin’, Danny. It’s been a little cold ‘round here of late if’n you catch my drift.”
“Speakin’ of drifts, it’s been damn near blizzard like over t’my house, but if I had me one’a these maybe Bertha would warm up a li’l.”
“Fair’s gone. I seen ‘em pull up stakes and head out yesterd’y.”
“I don’t think I can wait another year, Ollie.”
“I don’t see no way ‘round it.”
“Hows ‘bout we put this one on my side of the mailbox and that way we can both get a li’l pleasure from it.”
“I s’pose Martha might like it even more if’n she don’t have to mow ‘round it.”
“Bertha won’t mind mowin’ ‘round it if she gets t’ look at it all the time, and anyways, I got her one of them self-propelled mowers and it’s made her life a whole lot easier.”
“Whaddya mean, self-propelled, Danny?”
“I mean Bertha don’t hafta push it.”
“Damn. How ‘bout we just trade even-steven. I’ll let you have this here yard orn’ment and I’ll help you haul it to where’ev’r you wanna stick it if’n you let me have that mower so Martha won’t hafta be pushin’ one no more.”
“I think we got us a fair trade, Ollie.”
Okay, I’ll add just a bit to the last scene.
The door squealed open and Martha stepped out, her muumuu catching on the duct-taped screen. Placing her feet to reflect her vast shoulder width, she eyed him up and down, then placed her hands on ample hips. “Did you do like I told you, Ollie?”
Ollie put his hands up and gulped for air. “Yes, Martha. You go on an’ put that pipe wrench down now so I can come in.”
She glanced around the yard. “What’d y’do with it?”
Ollie turned to see if there were witnesses, then cupped one hand beside his mouth. “Seems Danny took a likin’ to it and wanted t’use it for a yard orn’ment.”
Martha pecked her head back and forth quicker than seven hens at one feeder. “Bertha’s gonna tan him a new hide for puttin’ that ol’ water heater on her front lawn! He’s still tryin’ t’grow one back from the beatin’ he got when he bought her that damn mower! Self-propelled my ass! Damn thing don’t even have a motor!” Martha beat the air with the one finger she pointed at Ollie. “You ever bring one of ‘em home like’at and you’ll be the self that’s propellin’ it!” She furled her brow and pulled her chin in. “What’s that look on your face, Ollie?”
Ollie gulped, then ran his hands up and down his arms. “Just got a sudden chill is all.”
Plumped up with no GMOs.
You can take any dialogue and change the tone and setting by adding your own narrative.
I didn’t name a place, but in my mind this is one of them there trailer parks where old car tires are used to hold on the roof and to keep the flowers in place. Swing is optional.
Supper calls. I think I’ll rustle up some ramps. That kind’a food goes well with this story.
Write, write, and write some more!