“Good. Thanks. You?” Jane said, smiling.
“I’m good too. What a beautiful day,” Steve said, taking his seat at the desk.
“It is, isn’t it? Lovely,” Jane agreed.
“Yes. Lovely. Wish I didn’t have to work so late,” Steve complained.
“Want some coffee?” Jane asked.
“That would be great,” Steve smiled. “Black, no sugar, please.”
“Ok. Will be back in five,” Jane got up from her desk and walked slowly to the office kitchenette to make some coffee for both of them. It was going to be another long day at the office.
“Kill me. Kill me now,” said the reader, bored out of their wits, and after a moment’s consideration threw the manuscript into the open fire.
In Talk to me we looked at some preliminary problems that may get a manuscript rejected before a single line of dialogue is read. Everyday dialogue – dialogue that strives to be realistic to the point of dullness – is very easy to spot and if one line of it makes its way onto the first page, then chances are there will be plenty of it to be “enjoyed” on every page after that.
If the agent or publisher needed any further confirmation that they can dispense with the manuscript, and save themselves and future readers a few precious hours, then they need look no further: “realistic” dialogue is one of the most frequent bases for rejection.
Luckily, this is one dialogue problem that can be easily rectified:
1. Resist the urge to write “realistic” dialogue. We don’t need to see characters arriving at work and greeting one another. If what they say is commonplace and dull, then this is exactly how the reader will feel, so let’s cut out the helloes and goodbyes and get into the thick of things.
If it doesn’t move the plot forward, reveal something essential about the character or add some tension and conflict to the page, then it is best left out.
2. It may be that some of our dialogue works, but it took us a while to warm up to it. Search for lines of dramatic dialogue. Make sure to keep those in, while discarding the “warming-up” part of the dialogue.
Sometimes I have a lot of conflict and tension to start with, but then I notice it disappear towards the end of the scene. It’s almost as if my characters have run out of steam and have nothing more dramatic to say. The end of dialogue is another good place to look for lines to cut.
3. If all dialogue in the manuscript is commonplace, then the only solution is to discard it all and start again.
Where are we in the storyline? What is the scene contributing to the overall story? Why are those characters there in the first place? What is their relationship? Does this conversation move the plot forward or is it fodder?
Dialogue should always be tense. Characters don’t chat and play nice, they parry with one another. Let the duel begin!