THE 7 TOOLS OF DIALOGUE

#7 DROP WORDS.
This is a favorite technique of dialogue master Elmore Leonard. By excising a single word here and there, he creates a feeling of verisimilitude in his dialogue. It sounds like real speech, though it is really nothing of the sort. All of Leonard’s dialogue contributes to characterization and story.
Here is a standard exchange:

“Your dog was killed?
“Yes, run over by a car.”
“What did you call it?”
“It was a she. I called her Tuffy.”

This is the way Leonard did it in Out of Sight:

“Your dog was killed?”
“Got run over by a car.”
“What did you call it?”
“Was a she, name Tuffy.”

It sounds so natural, yet is lean and meaningful. Notice it’s all a matter of a few words dropped, leaving the feeling of real speech.

As with any technique, there’s always a danger of overdoing it. Pick your spots and your characters with careful precision and focus, and your dialogue will thank you for it later.

Using tools is fun when you know what to do with them. I guess that’s why John, my neighbor, is always whistling when he works on his car. You’ll see results in your fiction—and have fun, too—by using these tools to make your dialogue sound just right.

Start tinkering.

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