8 Important Things To Remember When You Rewrite Dialogue

This is the second step in my dialogue series, How To Write Fabulous Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps.

Step 2: Layering

Last week in Step 1: Talking Heads, I wrote a draft and asked you to add your own
version in the comments to demonstrate what happens when you leave details to
chance and don’t fix your talking heads. Thank you to the brave souls who were willing to share. Your examples are great. Please take a look at how different each scene is. Genders, settings and even income-levels have changed. 
Please use the list below to evaluate your version. My example is below.  

Before I rewrite

  1. I read it aloud.
  2. I make sure I skip the polite stuff. Only your mother
    cares about your manners. I want to drop you in the middle of a conversation.
    No pleasantries required, unless your character is hedging.
  3. I make sure I know where I am and who is speaking.
  4. I check that I have used contractions and have varied,
    even incomplete, sentences. If your character is a well-spoken, posh university
    professor, he or she will speak in full sentences without contractions. The
    rest us, well, we don’t speak as well. We leave out words, use contractions.
    Your dialogue must sound real. Most of the time our speakers and their
    sentences are fragmented, distracted, interrupted and unsure.
  5. I don’t use dialogue tags and if I have used them, I
    cover them. I want to see if the sentences look different, because that means
    they will sound like two different characters. The words must fit the age,
    profession and background of the speaker.  
  6. I make sure there is conflict, confrontation or
    compromise. We shy away from conflict in real life; in fiction we don’t have
  7. I fix any talking heads by adding setting, description, and body language.
  8. I format the dialogue so that it looks like dialogue. I’ll be discussing formatting and punctuation next week.

Now here’s my example:

His wife fusses around the dressing room. Stacks of
clothes lined up on the bed. She packs like she lives. Neatly. Not a wrinkle in
sight. Ironed, starched, folded. It looks more like origami than clothing.
“You’re not serious, are you?”
“Actually, I am.” She turns back to the bed, folding,
patting, straightening. Her feet sunk deep into the carpet.  
“I don’t believe you.” He leans against the doorjamb. His
tone, carefully crafted carelessness.
“You should.” She smiles as she scurries past him.   
“Why?” he demands, arms crossed as he blocks her path to
the bed.
“Because, this time it’s real.” She slips under his arm
clutching another load. Tiny, fast, determined.
“But you promised.” He is whining now.
“No, we promised. You didn’t keep the promise.” She has
her back to him. She shakes another sweater into submission and adds it to the
“Screw you.”
“No darling, not anymore. You’ve lost that privilege.”
She laughs, but it is hollow.
“How did you find out?”
“Pass the bag, won’t you?” She points to the Luis Vuitton
on the top shelf.
“No, I won’t.” He folds his arms. The whine is back in
his voice.
“Fine, I’ll get it.” She darts past and grabs the
“I asked you a question.” He blocks her route to the bed
“Does it really matter, how I found out?” She sighs and
starts transferring the piles to the bag. Methodical. Shoes, pants, coat,
sweaters. She has a system for everything. 
“I thought we had a deal.” He holds her arm.
“I thought we had a marriage.” She pulls her arm away and
slips her feet into her shoes.
“Let’s talk about this.”
“We just did.”  She
walks out the door without looking back. The Luis Vuitton clacking on its tiny
I hope this exercise and the rewriting list will help you. Don’t over-think it and have fun. In the following weeks I‘ll be discussing formatting, adverbs, and punctuation in dialogue in more detail.
Look out for Step 3  Keeping Up Appearances next week when I’ll write about punctuation and formatting. 
Happy writing.

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This article has 0 comments

  1. Phuluso Mawela

    loved the advice…need more

  2. Mia Botha

    Thank you, Phuluso.

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