Need Help with Badly Buried Dialogue?

Is your dialogue buried so deep you might have to dig to China to get it out? Put away your shovel. I can help.

I’ve talked about buried dialogue before—if you missed it, here are links to the posts:

The Secrets Behind Buried Dialogue Part 1

The Secrets Behind Buried Dialogue Part 2

I suggest reading those posts to learn how to identify and fix basic buried dialogue. Basically, buried dialogue is dialogue that’s buried between bits of narration.

Example 1:

She stomped into the room, fists at her sides. “What do you think you’re doing?” She shoved him.

 

To fix a basic form of buried dialogue, you can usually change paragraphs.

Example 1A:

She stomped into the room, fists at her sides. “What do you think you’re doing?”

She shoved him.

Or:

Example 1B:

She stomped into the room, fists at her sides.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She shoved him.

 

I’ll dig a little deeper and explain how to correct dialogue that’s buried so deep you can’t fix it with a click of a return key. Let’s take a look at an example of badly buried dialogue.

Example 2:

She stomped into the room, fists at her sides. “What do you think you’re doing?” She shoved him. “This is my house. You have no right to go through my things.” She glared at him and moved into his space. “If you don’t get out now, you’ll have to answer to this.” She raised her fist and waved it in his face.

 

As you can see, I can’t just change paragraphs, or one of two things will happen:

-I’ll still have buried dialogue if I only change paragraphs once (which usually fixes the problem).

Example 2A:

She stomped into the room, hands balled at her sides.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She shoved him. “This is my house. You have no right to go through my things.” She glared at him and moved into his space. “If you don’t get out now, you’ll have to answer to this.” She waved her fist in his face.

 

-The paragraph and dialogue structure will be off.

Example 2B:

She stomped into the room, hands balled at her sides.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She shoved him. “This is my house. You have no right to go through my things.”

She glared at him and moved into his space.

“If you don’t get out now, you’ll have to answer to this.” She waved her fist in his face.

 

The problem with example 2B is that it doesn’t read well. The reader will have a hard time following the dialogue because he/she is used to seeing a new paragraph for a new speaker, which isn’t the case in the example above.

 

To resolve this issue, you could add actions or reactions from the POV character or the other character in this scene. Take a look.

Example 2C:

She stomped into the room, hands balled at her sides.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She shoved him. “This is my house. You have no right to go through my things.”

He slipped his hands into his jacket pockets. “I wasn’t doing anything. Just waiting for you.”

She glared at him and moved into his space. The teen backed against the wall but straightened his shoulders and puffed out his chest. Like that would intimidate her.

“If you don’t get out now, you’ll have to answer to this.” She waved her fist in his face.

 

Do you see the difference? Are you guilty of burying your dialogue?

Update: If you need a substantive/big picture edit (aka developmental edit), I have openings January 26 and February 23, 2015.

Visit my website: www.labelleseditorialservices.com for more information on my services and rates. Contact me at labelle@labelleseditorialservices (dot) com.

Lynnette Labelle
www.labelleseditorialservices.com
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