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Are your characters too polite?

Since the day we are born, we’re taught to be polite. Civilization depends on politeness. As writers, this can be a handicap. We strive for drama and conflict in our stories. Everyday, we strive to overcome our conditioning.

Reading over a chapter of my novel this morning, I realized the characters in one scene are far too polite. It’s not a scene that requires them to be rude or in conflict with one another but my dialogue could be shorter, punchier, and more direct.

The remedy is easy. Among the plethora of advice I picked up this weekend at the StoryMasters conference was a tip from author and writing mentor James Scott Bell. Sometimes, he says, he’ll just write dialogue down the page–a back and forth between the characters with no tags, actions or anything else. This can help us get in the flow of the exchange. Later, we can go back and add the other stuff in.

We want our dialogue to sparkle and stand out. Bell says that agents and publishers have been known to skim through a manuscript and go straight to the dialogue. If the dialogue is bad, boring, or doesn’t hook them, why would they waste their time reading the rest?

Take a look at some of your dialogue and ask yourself, “Are my characters too polite?”

Stay tuned for more dialogue tips in my next post.

p.s. This is a great exercise to increase your word count for NaNoWriMo!

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