Deb Amy’s Hint For When NOT To Write Dialogue, And A Spot Of Tea

teapartyThis week my Deb sisters have shared great advice and examples for how to write, and how not to write, dialogue.  Today, I’m going share the trick I use for making sure that the need for dialogue is even there at all.

As much as we all love to give voice to our characters, in real life we tend to repeat ourselves. We may talk about our weekend to everyone we see. We may share our child’s straight A’s or homerun or college choice with the UPS man, our next door neighbor and every friend we see at the grocery store. And if you’re with friends more than once, you may tell your stories again and again. Even if some of the people in the room have already heard them.  You know I’m right.

But you don’t want to do that in your novel!

Well, Deb Amy, you say, what IF a certain character needs to know something? Huh? What about then, eh? Are you telling me that my character does not need to impart information directly to everyone who needs to know it.

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

An example from my forthcoming novel THE GLASS WIVES, is a scene where my protagonist, Evie, is having dinner with her best friends, Beth and Laney, and their husbands. Evie had recently learned information about Nicole—her ex-husband’s young widow—that her friends don’t know. The Evie/Nicole scenes before the dinner party are rife with conversation. There are revelations, admissions, secrets revealed. Is it necessary for Evie to tell her friends everything? Absolutely.  But she doesn’t have to take them to tea. What do I mean by that? I mean, there doesn’t have to be a separate, special conversation expressly for the purpose of making sure the reader sees the friends get the coveted news when the reader already knows what’s going on. Having tea would mean the characters would continue to sit at the dinner table (oh yes, the husbands are doing the dishes, folks, it’s fiction, fiction, fiction!) expressly for the purpose of the exchange of vital information. Nothing new revealed.  It wouldn’t move the story along because the reader would be yawning, or maybe pushing the book aside, clicking to something new on the ereader.  Having tea would mean it’s all for show. And who needs that? No one.

Here’s an excerpt where Evie is contemplating telling her friends everything she has recently learned. Remember, the reader already knows the information.  How Evie tells Beth and Laney is less important than the reactions that come later that help keep the story moving.

Nicole had not asked Evie to keep a confidence, and even if she had, Evie owed her nothing. Secrets were a burden and one she was not willing to shoulder for Nicole. She told Beth and Laney everything. 

This is not followed by the information, actually it’s the end of a scene. And since I believe in giving my readers a lot of credit to figure out how some things are handled, this works. Later, we see Beth and Laney’s direct reactions to the news we know they received. We didn’t need the dialogue here, even if it would have been fun to have tea with these three friends!

Have you ever experienced one of those tea parties where someone is telling stories you’ve already heard a hundred times? I’ve actually declined invitations where I knew that would happen—and I make sure to have my characters do the same!


10 Replies to “Deb Amy’s Hint For When NOT To Write Dialogue, And A Spot Of Tea”

  1. A great post, Amy (and I love getting this teaser from THE GLASS WIVES to boot!:))

    I am often guilty of letting my characters talk TOO much. As you so aptly put it, have faith in your readers–they are sharp and they will know what gets said and what doesn’t get said. I always think of soap operas (are there any still on???) and the way the writers would always manage to insert a bit of catch-up backstory mid-conversation for those new viewers. It worked for soaps, not so sure it can work for books, of course;)

    1. ARE THERE SOAP OPERAS? IT’S GENERAL HOSPITAL’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? LOL. Truly, I’ve been watching GH for 36 years and some of my favorite parts are when they recount everything for new viewers. It’s happening all the time now because of the anniversary, and lots of characters are coming back.

      Oh, were we talking about dialogue?

      1. Ack! No way! See, I was a CBS soap girl. ATWT and Guiding Light. Lily and Holden. Reva and Josh. Shannon and Duncan. (Somebody stop me!!) My heart still hurts that they puled them. WHYY???

        1. I grew up watching Y&R on CBS and Another World and DOOL on NBC. I’m still mourning the loss of One Life To Life. And, trust me, that’s not a joke.

          1. Oh, Amy, me too. OLTL came on at my boys’ nap time. Vicki and I were pregnant with our first sons at the same time & I’ve always felt close to Erika Slezak asa result. Wish she and I could have tea…and thanks for a terrific post this week! So true, so true.

  2. This is SUCH good advice. It’s one of the things that irritates me most about some novels – which is exceptionally ironic coming from me, because my high school yearbook actually calls me “Most Likely to Tell a Story So Many Times That You Think You Were There With Her.”

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