Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Writing Dialogue

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TODAY'S WRITING SAMPLE:
(269 words)

       I walk into the book store, nervously eyeing the orderly rows of volumes and wondering if I'll ever find what I'm looking for. The ultimate, perfect gift for a snooty, not-so-perfect person.
       "Can I help you?" The mousy being perched on the barstool behind the cluttered counter gives me a hazy look of disinterest as she speaks. It's obvious from her lack of wardrobe coordination, not to mention her lackluster manner, that she doesn't really care if I buy anything or not, but I plunge right in.
       "I'm looking for a special book of poetry for my aunt," I say hesitantly.
       Mousy Being's gaze goes glassy for a moment, then she summons a gathering of latent energy and leans to yell down a row of cluttered shelves. "Gina! Oddball request, your forte."
       A pathetically thin girl with outrageously thick hair down to mid-thigh appears, her hands cradling a small stack of books as though she thinks they're sacred beyond all measure. Instead of answering, she raises her eyebrows into a hint of an arch, and a trace of a smile twitches on her pink-hued lips. Her clothes are retro-hippie, with ankle bracelets, smiley pins, and a long tie-dye skirt.
       "She's looking for a special poetry book,” Mousy Being says, jabbing a thumb at me.
       Long-haired Gina sighs dramatically, giving me an indulgent half-smile that barely affects her mouth. I stare at her poor choice of bubble-gum-colored lipstick on her lips as they move. "Follow me. We have a whole section of poetry books over here."
       I follow her meekly to a collection of books four rows to the left.

MY COMMENTS:

I walk into the book store, nervously eyeing the orderly rows of volumes and wondering if I'll ever find what I'm looking for. The ultimate, perfect gift for a snooty, not-so-perfect person.
Adverb alert: nervously. Could omit this, since eyeing might give enough of a clue how this character is feeling. The second sentence has a few too many adjectives; ultimate and perfect are similar enough so that one or the other could be omitted. Even the stark simplicity of "The perfect gift for a not-so-perfect person" would get the point across just as well, with a certain nice cadence to it.
"Can I help you?" The mousy being perched on the barstool behind the cluttered counter gives me a hazy look of disinterest as she speaks. It's obvious from her lack of wardrobe coordination, not to mention her lackluster manner, that she doesn't really care if I buy anything or not, but I plunge right in.
Some redundancy with "a hazy look of disinterest," which might be okay, but the next sentence mentions a similar thing again--her lackluster manner. Trimming one of these would be good.
"I'm looking for a special book of poetry for my aunt," I say hesitantly.
Adverb alert: hesitantly. There are 7 adverbs in this one-page excerpt. Slash, slash, slash!
Mousy Being's gaze goes glassy for a moment, then she summons a gathering of latent energy and leans to yell down a row of cluttered shelves. "Gina! Oddball request, your forte."
"Summons a gathering" is rather redundant. Also, there are cluttered shelves, too close to the cluttered counter. I like referring to the mousy girl as the "Mousy Being." Nice title without having to name her (since she's probably not a key player here).
A pathetically thin girl with outrageously thick hair down to mid-thigh appears, her hands cradling a small stack of books as though she thinks they're sacred beyond all measure. Instead of answering, she raises her eyebrows into a hint of an arch, and a trace of a smile twitches on her pink-hued lips. Her clothes are retro-hippie, with ankle bracelets, smiley pins, and a long tie-dye skirt.
Adverb alert: pathetically, outrageously. Probably choose one but not both, although I have to admit if there weren't any other adverbs on the page, I might leave both of these just for an intriguing parallel comparison, the pathetically thin and the outrageously thick. The pink-hued lips seem a bit forced and odd; hue means color and pink IS a color, so "pink" is enough. We do get a good picture of Gina's personality from how she's described, but in this much detail is probably not necessary. Sacred beyond all measure is a colorful way to say it, but sacred in itself might be enough to get the point across. As a further note, if this Gina girl is not going to be a minor or major player in this hypothetical novel, then it would be best not to go into this much descriptive detail. All you'd need is flavor, not a complete run-down of her expressions, physical appearance, and clothing. As it is, there's a risk of introductory-description-info-dump in progress here. It's usually better to focus on one or two key characteristics of a person, and make them memorable to the reader that way.
"She's looking for a special poetry book,” Mousy Being says, jabbing a thumb at me.
Mousy Being's line of dialogue with its "special poetry book" is a repeat and could be reworded slightly to lose the echo feeling.
Long-haired Gina sighs dramatically, giving me an indulgent half-smile that barely affects her mouth. I stare at her poor choice of bubble-gum-colored lipstick on her lips as they move. "Follow me. We have a whole section of poetry books over here."
I follow her meekly to a collection of books four rows to the left.
Adverb alert: dramatically, barely, meekly. And we already know Gina has long hair, so that description can be omitted--especially since her skirt is also described as long. We've already heard about her lips/lipstick, too; I'd choose one place or the other to mention it, not both. If mentioned twice like this, the reader begins to wonder if it's important in some way. Otherwise, why the focus? I'd omit the entire sentence about staring at the lipstick, although the bubble-gum description is admittedly more interesting than the aforementioned pink-hued one. Also, the patient half-smile might be enough without adding "that barely affects her mouth." There is a repeat of "poetry books" and "collection of books" that could be tidied. Lastly, the "Follow me" and the "I follow her" are a little echo-like, so a different verb could be used.

REWRITE:
(221 words)

       I walk into the book store, eyeing the orderly rows of volumes and wondering if I'll ever find what I'm looking for. The perfect gift for a not-so-perfect person.
       "Can I help you?" The mousy being perched on the barstool behind the cluttered counter gives me a hazy look of disinterest as she speaks. It's obvious that she doesn't really care if I buy anything or not, but I plunge right in.
       "I'm looking for a special book of poetry for my aunt," I say.
       Mousy Being's gaze goes glassy for a moment, then she summons latent energy and leans to yell down a row of shelves. "Gina! Oddball request, your forte."
       A pathetically thin girl with outrageously thick hair down to mid-thigh appears, her hands cradling a small stack of books as though she thinks they're sacred. Instead of answering, she raises her eyebrows into a hint of an arch, and a trace of a smile twitches on her pink lips. Her clothes are retro-hippie, with ankle bracelets, smiley pins, and a long tie-dye skirt.
       "She's looking for special poems,” Mousy Being says, jabbing a thumb at me.
       Gina sighs, giving me an indulgent half-smile. "Follow me. We have a whole section of poetry over here."
       I trail her to a collection of books four rows to the left.

49 words slashed in ONE page--mostly adjectives, adverbs, and redundant descriptions. The result is a more streamlined version that still retains its crucial elements and flavor.

Are any passages in your novel this wordy?
If you're not sure, send them in to me and I'll help you slash. LOL

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