Summarized Dialogue: Only Saying What You Need

Sarah LaPolla has a great post up about meaningful dialogue and what kind of dialogue doesn’t work in your story. Dialogue that acts as an info-dump or contains tedious life stuff will frustrated and bore your reader. Make sure to check out the full post for all the examples.

One way to avoid unnecessary dialogue is to use summarized dialogue. Instead of dictating exactly what a character says, you can sum it up and keep it as part of the narrative. Then, you can actually quote any meaningful dialogue. One (fairly bad) example:

Everyone started debating whether or not ghosts were real. Michael insisted they were, but Jenny demanded hard proof. Then Carrie told us about the time she was doing laundry alone one night. She was pulling clothes from the dryer when she saw something out of the corner of her eye. At first she thought it was the lights flickering, but when she turned she saw woman in an old-fashioned dress standing at the other end of the hall and looking at her. Carrie froze, and after a second the woman turned the corner and was gone. “At first I couldn’t move, but when I finally peaked around the corner there as no one there,” Carrie said. “Now every time I do laundry, I make sure someone else is home.”

Again, quality isn’t huge in this example, but you can see how we don’t exactly need all of the conversation to get a sense of the exchange. Just choosing a few pieces of dialogue paired with summary can provide all the necessary information you need while still highlighting the key emotions.

I think summarized dialogue is one of the best tools a writer can use. Try it out the next time you’re writing a scene and feeling bogged down by the dialogue.

2 thoughts on “Summarized Dialogue: Only Saying What You Need

  1. 4amWriter says:

    Great advice. I love dialogue because I think it helps move the story faster than narrative. However, info dump is bad so we do have to pay careful attention to what we put in dialogue.

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