The Writing Journey

Away With The Pleasantries

I always begin a post with a greeting. It was the way I was taught. It is customary to exchange greeting whenever you “see” someone.

Where I come from (Nigeria) greetings are done with a lot more meaning than in the Western world. Back home, when a child sees an elder or an adult meets another adult there is a pause and pleasantries are exchanged. It’s not a hurried “How are you?” but a “Good(morning/afternoon/evening), how are you?” then a whole conversation ensues in responding to that question simple question…”how are you?However, in the West, I’ve come to learn that depending on the relationship, the “how are you ?” is just a check box.

I say all this to tell you that,when it now came to writing my books especially my debut novel An Unexpected Blessing. I had full blown conversations behind the question “how are you?”. I mean that’s what I knew but a huge no no in book writing.

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My ever fantastic editor got me to do an exercise that I found do intriguing. My audience isn’t primarily African so I had to get my books conversations (dialogues) to be fast paced and book-like. What did she mean by that? The pleasantries had to go!! I learn’t from that exercise that even though in real life we go around saying , “hi”, “how are you?” those should be rare or non existent in a book.

Other things I learnt about effective book dialogue are:

  1. It’s always choppy: People love to cut people off or finish each others sentences. It helps move the story along.
  2. Do not use internal dialogue as an information dump. You never see someone in a conversation with another just “thinking” for long periods of time without saying anything.
  3. Effective dialogue curbs long narrations and is a great way to drop pertinent information.
  4. Great dialogue, make for great action scenes.
  5. Every character should have a distinctive voice. Does your male character sound male? If they do, they shouldn’t be able to describe female clothing in DETAIL in their internal dialogue. Does your female character sound female?
  6. Beats Balance: When we are talking, we are never idle. We gesture with our hands, move from one place to another, shift positions…you name it. As you know, these are called beats and they are to be used in moderation. Imagine dialogue in a book where you’re constantly being told what the character is doing as they talk.
  7. Lastly “said” still remains the best tag.

Writing dialogue has become one of my strong suits when I write. But it took practice. Try this exercise: Ask 5 people, preferably of varying relationship to you, the same question and see how they answer. You’ll notice, everyone is different.

How do you write or like to read your book dialogue?




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4 thoughts on “Away With The Pleasantries”

  1. I like to read as if a story is happening around me with minimal people. I don’t like when the story is filled with descriptive clothing, seasons or actions, I think it works if the authors says it was a stormy night rather than getting into how fast the wind was blowing and all the debris rolling on the ground. I like a fluid story.

      1. It’s OK coming from your stories because it’s not something all reader know, and the way you do it draws the reader in.

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