Is Your Dialogue Bumpy?

Let me start by saying that if you didn’t read this WriteOnCon post about dialogue, you must go there immediately. Done? Okay.

The topics I choose for my blog are usually based on my current struggles (in writing, that is. No one wants to hear about what my cat did to the toilet). My latest one is with transitions between dialogue of different characters. For example, say you have this:

I held the hat out to Bob. “Is this yours?”

He shook his head. “I think it’s Jane’s.”

I returned it to the hook. “Oh. Thanks.”

In addition to being, perhaps, the most boring dialogue ever written, the problem with this is that it is very much like reading a game of ping-pong. We’re the MC, we’re Bob, we’re back to the MC.  This isn’t a problem if done occasionally but can get very tiring if done for long stretches of dialogue.

The other problem with this dialogue is that the tags are acting like bumps. It reads kind of like this:

BUMP. “Is this yours?”

BUMP. “I think it’s Jane’s.”

BUMP. “Oh. Thanks.”

So how can we fix this? Well, we can eliminate the tags all together (if they’re not necessary) or we can re-position them so the transition is, well, less bumpy. For example:

“Is this yours?” I said as I held the hat out to Bob. 

He shook his head. “I think it’s Jane’s.”

“Oh. Thanks.” I returned it to the hook.

The difference here is that, by putting the tags back to back, we’ve merged two bumps. It now reads more like.

 “Is this yours?” BUMP. BUMP. “I think it’s Jane’s.”

“Oh. Thanks.” BUMP.

And now, back to the cat.

Category: On Writing