My Characters are Blabbermouths

I love writing dialogue. But sometimes I love writing dialogue a little too much. A few weeks ago, I was reading back over the first draft of a story I had finished a few months ago and discovered that my characters are blabbermouths. I was tempted to print the story out and start slashing away at the excessive dialogue right then and there.

When I write first drafts, I write fast. I want to get the story out. Dialogue moves the story along at a very fast pace, sometimes too fast if there’s too much of it.

So here are some tips for dialogue if you find that your characters are blabbermouths, too:

1. Is it really necessary to include this dialogue? (Your characters don’t need to make small talk, unless it’s intrinsic to the plot.) Remember what Strunk and White said: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
2. Dialogue does not have to imitate real life speech exactly. Watch out for overuse of dialect and words like “um,” “like,” “so,” “well,” etc.
3. Actions speak louder than words. Instead of having your characters say what they feel, have them do something that illustrates it better.
4. Vary the pacing. Dialogue tags like “said” make the dialogue flow faster. Having no dialogue tags takes it up to warp speed.
5. Don’t use too many adverbs, as in “he said angrily.”

13 thoughts on “My Characters are Blabbermouths

  1. I’ve been accused of writing a 400+ page play that masquerades as a novel. That may be because I grew up on Isaac Asimov. His books are primarily dialogue.

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  2. #1. I think this is a bit too strong. Dialogue establishes character as well as serving the plot, and stories don’t feel realistic if everything characters say is advancing the plot. When I’m reading something like that, it feels airless to me. So, I think there has to be a balance.
    #2. Agreed completely. And some people have an ear and skill for writing dialect and some don’t.
    #3. Absolutely. Frankly, people mostly don’t honestly say their feelings, so characters shouldn’t either. Action is much better, for a varity of reasons.
    #4 and #5. Agree, and the same also goes for “he exclaimed” (or “cried” or “shouted” or “boasted” etc.). A simple “said” is almost always sufficient, when needed.

    I might suggest three more:
    #6. Unless you’re doing a flat-out comedy, never include a joke, no matter how funny, if that character would never have said that line at that moment.
    #7. Try to vary how the characters speak, because people speak differently. With at least some of your characters, it should be possible to identify their dialogue even if there is no attribution.
    #7. Be careful with cursing, but don’t rule it out. Some people do curse (sometimes a lot), and some don’t. And some do only under extreme pressure (I have one character who’s gone through three novels and a series of short stories with nothing stronger than the occasional “Poo!” but at the end of the third novel she does curse, because she’s been shaken to her core).

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    • I like your suggestions, Anthony – especially the first one. Most likely others won’t find us as funny as we think we are! Thank you so much.

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  3. I love writing dialogue too. It always seems easier to write. I don’t know if my characters are “blabbermouths”, but sometimes they do talk a little stiff or awkward.

    Those are some good tips. My weakness is the tags. Sometimes I have them when I should have left them out.

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  4. Dialogue is what moves your story, so I’m not sure you can have too much. It is difficult to maintain a long dialogue without character attributes, but it can be done, and it is a wonderful exercise for a writer of modern fiction.

    I’ve written a good many stories which are 100% and have NO character attribution. These are usually two-person discussions, but they use verbal tricks, and styles to identify the speaker.

    I’ve found that adding a page or two of dialouge in a section of a novel that seems to be crawling along can make all the difference.

    I like how you are thinking about this. Questioning everything that we take for granted is a good thing.

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  5. The very best written dialog doesn’t need a lot of tags, does it?

    “When the writing is particularly sharp the reader automatically knows who is saying what.”, said Judson.

    🙂

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