Painting with Dialogue
13 Thursday Sep 2012
Written by J. Abram Barneck in Writing Tips
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You may sometime find yourself writing a line like the following.
The nurse talked on and on repeating the word miracle way too many times, which seemed to annoy my mother, before she finally stepped out, promising to be back with the doctor soon.
There is nothing exactly wrong with the above sentence and it might be just fine in certain situations, but it is definitely an example of telling not showing, and when I read it, I cringed. The parts of the sentence that most made me cringe were these examples of telling.
- Telling: The nurse talked on and on…
- Telling: …repeated the word miracle way too many times…
- Telling: …which seemed to annoy my mother,
- Telling: she finally stepped out, promising to be back with the doctor soon.
However, one good thing about the above list is that I now have a list describing what I want to paint with words. I decided to use dialog as the paint brush for this example.
“Well, it is such a miracle you survived.” The nurse continued. “You needed a transfusion but with Bombay blood type, well, we shouldn’t have had enough blood, but somehow we did. It was a miracle.” She fiddled with my IV. “You know you are also the first person we’ve ever seen survive after losing that much blood. It was a miracle.”
“OK, it was a miracle, we heard you the first time,” Mom cut in sharply. What’s wrong with mom? I wondered.
“Well, I’ll be back with the doctor.” The nurse eyed my mother as she walked out and muttered, “Well, it was a miracle.”
Everything in my list is painted here with the dialog. It is a much better read.
What I’ve learned is that there are simple steps replacing telling sentences by painting with dialog.
- Locate a sentence that is telling.
- Separate each telling clause out into a list.
- Determine if dialog is a good paintbrush to use.
- Determine who should be speaking.
- Write dialog that demonstrates each item in the list
I hope this helps you the next time you need to replace a telling sentence.