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Hi, I’m Hells, and I over write. Fortunately I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here. I think there are a lot of over writers out there. We fear empty space. We fear not explaining our characters enough, making them lovable enough to our readers. We all want our characters to be loved as much as we love them; and sometimes I think we over compensate trying to “sell” them to the reader by over writing. It’s not the worse writing sin in The 10 Commandments, but it probably ranks as one of the top ten. (The Golden Rule Commandment being, of course, don’t bore your reader.)
Now we all have our own specialties in writing. I know when you write, you have strengths. Maybe you’re great with description or setting (like Teresa Medeiros) or sexual tension (like Lisa Kleypas) or bad sex that leads to great sex (like Eloisa James—doesn’t that fried chicken scene in Your Wicked Ways crack you up?) Me, I like dialogue. Banter and wit is my idea of foreplay in real life as well as the written word. If I’m writing a scene and completely blowing character, plot, and description and setting, I try to get a conversation going just so I rebuild my writer’s self-esteem before it shreds entirely.
However, dialogue is not exactly the meat and potatoes of the story. It’s more like the frosting. It’s fun; it’s flavorful; and for many, it’s their favorite part, but it’s probably the nutritional equivalent of ho-ho’s. Possibly it’s most important value is how it paces a novel. Dialogue is quick and feels like action even when the characters are sitting in a coffee shop. Because talking is an action; and action is good.
However, consider the other part of dialogue: what isn’t said.
We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.
--Tao Te Ching, Chap 11, tr. Waley.
So if witty banter is not your forte, remember that’s not necessarily the important part of dialogue. Think about every Black Moment you’ve ever read. It’s all the things your hero didn’t tell the heroine until it was too late that is revealed in the Black Moment. Like he loved her. Or oops, it was her he wanted to marry all along, not that hussy he’d been engaged to for the last 300 pages. Or he was a jerk, but he didn’t know how to apologize for it because who is good at apologizing? No one, exactly. We hold our cards to our chest just as closely as we play them. It’s human nature not to reveal too much because, frankly, there are things we just won’t even admit to ourselves. That empty dialogue reveals just as much character as anything spoken aloud.
What about you? Do you think dialogue is a meat-and-potatoes sort of aspect of writing, or do you too think it’s more frosting? Who are your go-to authors for the best banter and dialogue? Does anyone else watch TV shows for dialogue tips? (I get some of my best dialogue and “plotting” (braiding) tips from watching re-runs of Friends.) If so, which shows do you enjoy watching for this?