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How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript
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"Really." He didn't sound convinced.
"Look, where other books on writing fiction drop the ball on dialogue, this guy not only picks it up, he spins it on one finger. . . and he tells us the same thing." She took a sip of beer and leaned into him. "We need to know our characters."
He grimaced. Took another slice of pizza and let the white, oily cheese pull across the plate. "Not that again."
"You know it's a juggling act. All the mincing - or not mincing - of words. Making it tense. Or alluding to something." She pulled a piece of crust apart. "Shutting a character up at the right time. It's all in there."
"Huh. Well, I'm not there yet. I'm still working on the plot."
"You'll get there."
"Can I borrow yours?"
She swallowed the beer. "Buy your own."
This book is different.
It's really a booklet or pamphlet, not a whole book, but it focuses specifically on writing dialogue and goes deeper than most general books. James Scott Bell provides specific techniques for adding tension to dialogue, for avoiding the boring chit-chat while still keeping the essentials of what you want your characters to say. There are several suggestions for exercises you can try to improve the way you write dialogue, some of which were new-to-me. With the number of writing books I've read, I'd assume they would be new to others as well.
It does include most of the standard advice for writing dialogue as well, but Bell was smart enough to put this at the back rather than the beginning where it might make the reader assume you were just getting tips you already knew.
Most of all, I like the tone of this book. It doesn't present the information as rules you must follow. Instead, it says these are things I've learned about dialogue, things you might want to incorporate in what you do when you write it, but if you want to do something different, that's okay, too. That's very refreshing to see in a writing craft book.
Bell sums up what makes dialogue dazzling and how to avoid writing dialogue that, while it may get the job done, is flat and boring. He also covers punctuation (a challenging concept for many beginning writers) and my favorite topic: Curving the language.
This one is a keeper and I will be referring to it often.
This book had some very useful tips. In particular, I found many good pointers in the chapter talking about how to actually structure dialogue as far as punctuation and attribution goes. Other chapters were not incredibly useful for me. It seemed that the book was aimed towards a certain genre, which is fine, but it was not the genre that I enjoy. That is, the dialogue proposed by the author seemed to fit best in literature and general fiction, and not the science fiction and fantasy that I enjoy reading and writing. I found myself disagreeing with the author at several points about what sounded good and what did not. As with any sort of writing tips, you will need to take the writer's tips with a grain of salt and apply them as they fit your own style rather than seeing them as hard-set rules. With that in mind, this book helped me to iron out many flaws in my dialogue that I noticed but could not quite put my finger on.
I give this book four stars because I found much of its content useful while at the same time finding much of the content unimportant or unhelpful. It is a short read, and I would recommend it, especially if you write in the same genre as the author. For science fiction and fantasy writers, I feel that it will be less useful, but I cannot recommend an alternative that is any better.
I realize now, after reading this book (in one sitting) that much of what I had learned in college may have been a hinderance to my writing. I'm going back to some of my dust-covered tales, that were written years ago, and breathing new vitality into my characters using the clever exercises in this text. I'm writing with a sense of adventure again! And that's worth more than what I paid in tuition fees!