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a: Oversharing in Dialogue and Why It's Not Good for Fiction Either
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Posted 05 September 2017 - 12:59 PM
Besides stilted dialogue, where every character sounds the same and the speech is too prim and proper, the worst dialogue offense is when characters overshare in a conversation. It's obvious an author is using this conversation as a device to share unknown information with the reader.
Here's an example:
"Honey, remember when you cheated on me with your secretary and I didn't talk to you for two weeks, and then I hired someone to sabotage your business?" Berta said as she took a bite of eggs in the tiny kitchen she shared with her husband.
"Yes, sweetie, of course. I was in prison for a year for fraud when I really did nothing wrong, but now I am blackmailing you to stay with me." Fred smiled over his pancakes.
So, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but since I critique a lot of novels and flash fiction, I read conversations where it is obvious that the author is trying to figure out how to work in the backstory the reader needs to know about these characters. But think about real life--in the above example, Berta would not even be talking to Fred, let alone reminding him of all the bad things she did to him out of spite.
How could you let the reader know that information without a big info dump or oversharing in dialogue? Try using actions and internal thoughts, surrounding the dialogue:
Berta stabbed her sausage link like she was murdering it. How did she end up back in this tiny kitchen table with her disgusting husband? "How's your new secretary working out?" It was ironic that now, Berta didn't care what Fred did with his secretary, and this one was twenty years older with a well-placed mole on her chin.
Fred's smile gave her chills. "She's great. Everything's just great. You know, new clients really trust an insurance man who spent a year in jail. It's at the top of everyone's list of what they want in a trusted relationship."
Good, Berta thought. Nothing should be easy for that cheating, sarcastic, low-life bastard. Now she just had to figure out how to get out of this marriage with her reputation and bank account in check.
Readers don't know quite as much as they did with the first conversation, but they know enough to understand this dysfunctional marriage. Plus, in the second conversation, there's some mystery to exactly what happened, which will hopefully make readers flip the pages to find out.
Look at your current work-in-progress, and read your dialogue. Are your characters oversharing because you couldn't figure out how to fit in the backstory? Take it out and work it in another way. Think about how these two characters would act together if they were real and make your conversations sound "natural enough".
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