05 August 2012

D is for Dialogue Description and Detail

These are three things I look for when I read the first few pages of a novel. They are what sets the tempo of the story. If a book doesn't have a fast enough tempo, I put it down. I know that’s sad, but it’s true. The average reader today doesn't have time to read your eloquently crafted prose. They want to cut to the chase. Give me the meat and potatoes; I have a 4:00 meeting.

Doesn’t that sound horrible? So how would you pace things so that I am willing to slow down long enough to enjoy the tempo of your really great novel?


I’m not talking about putting quotes around nonsensical fillers like, “Hi, Anne! How have you been?” That’s just going to piss me off. That tells me that the author is trying to make his page look aesthetically pleasing. You’re assuming I’m not smart enough to realize your characters may as well be paper dolls.

Use dialogue to flesh out your characters. Don’t force them to talk to each other because it’s what you’re “supposed to do”. When they speak, I want to hear their voices and see their faces. You don’t have to describe this in detail, just use the right words.

“What did you expect?” Jack crushed out his cigarette and reached for another.

“From you? A hell of a lot more.” Anne slung her purse over her shoulder and walked out.

Not the most eloquent writing, but enough to make a point. When I read dialogue, I don’t want it to sound like two old men sitting on rocking chairs in the middle of the desert while discussing the weather. It’s sort of out of place with no direction and pretty much a waste of my time.


If you are the verbose type, spend your energy on description. I love it when I’ve been taken to a tropical island in the Mediterranean or a beautiful mountain top in Vermont.  What I hate is when I get excited to be in a place I’ve never been and literally cannot see or experience any of it. I want to see coconuts on 20-foot palms. I want to see snow falling in clumps at the echo of a gunshot blast. I want to smell the ocean and I want to see a mixture of seashells in glass jars on tabletops in a Moroccan cafĂ©.

There are some descriptions I don’t care for because they have nothing to do with how I experience people or places. What a character looks like isn’t pertinent to me. It’s exasperating when an author feels the need to describe what a character looks like. Beauty is in the eye of the reader. Therefore, I will decide for myself what the hero looks like. I want to imagine the beautiful Princess how I see her. Maybe I think a big nose is more attractive than the cute button nose described.

If I, the reader, am 4 feet tall, maybe I’d feel awkward knowing the hero is 6 foot 5 inches. My goodness! Can you imagine? Use the eight senses in your descriptions and pull me into your scenes. The minute you describe your main character(s), you are excluding me.


If anything annoys me more than nonsensical dialogue, it’s a lengthy, detailed description when a few words would garner more detail.


Her knee-length, black skirt fit close to her hips and thighs and her matching blazer, stitched to perfection, formed a professional image of the soon to be first female CEO of Klinco.

The future CEO of  Klinco wore her custom tailored black Armani suit.

Do you think anything is lost in the second sentence? Maybe some cadence, but at least it’s telling me the same thing and not slowing me down.

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