In How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript, James Scott Bell promises the reader craft secrets to shape great dialogue. As a writer juggling a full life, the phrase “fastest way to improve” catches my eye and I hit Amazon’s buy now button.
When the book arrives, it’s a slim 135 pages. Was it worth the price? Will it stay on my How To writing shelf or end up in the donate pile? I find my favorite booth at Panera, order an iced tea, and crack it open.
I have my doubts the first few pages. Bell starts with what not to do examples that are so bad my fourth grader would know better. With a sigh, I turn a few pages. Next up is a tip that all characters should bring specific, opposing agendas to a scene. I read an excerpt from Gone With the Wind and jot a note to myself: Identify characters’ opposing agendas at the start of scene to increase conflict and tension. A few fun ideas bubble up.
The next idea sounds crazy, but I try it. Bell’s tip is to take a dialogue heavy section in my story and pick a random line. Then I go to my bookshelf, select a favorite novel, and flip it open. The first line of dialogue on that page will now replace the line of dialogue in my manuscript. Bizarre, but it works! My scene takes a creative twist and the dialogue’s interest shoots up.
Bell’s book includes tips on everything from punctuation to attributions to cursing, but the idea that pulls me in next is bare bones dialogue. I tend to be wordy. So I take a page of my dialogue and snip, snip, snip. My goal is to get each line to five words or less. The page suddenly has more white space and the dialogue more snap.
After applying Bell’s tips, I email my newest scene to my tough love critique partner whose comments tend toward “yawning here” or “this scene matters why?”
Several days later, I’m back at my favorite Panera booth, sipping my iced tea and open my email. My critique partner has responded and I nearly keel over when I read: Engaging and well written scene. Easy, enjoyable read. I wonder if it’s the tea or all the hard work. Nice job!
I write back that it’s not the tea, but the tips from How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript.
Worth the cost?