The Prompter Room

For Thursday, October 29, 2015:

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”

Elmore Leonard

Most writers have grown up with two pieces of advice: ‘Write what you know,’ and ‘Show, don’t tell.’  If someone had told me about Elmore Leonard’s wisdom, too, it would have made things a little smoother for me when I was writing my first novel.

As a fledgling writer, my preferred genres were non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry, in part because I didn’t feel I could craft dialogue well enough to move a storyline along.  My comfort zone was descriptive narrative.

While my mentors almost always praised those narratives, in whatever genre I put them, I was told I needed to do more to show-not-tell in my fiction, but I don’t recall anyone giving me advice on how to do that.  Maybe they did and I just didn’t hear it or take it in.  It took the almost 20 years — from the first tiny seed of an idea to completion — of writing my first novel to figure out that I could do so through dialogue.

This realization didn’t make the writing easier — it was hard, at first, for me to ‘translate’ description into dialogue — but it did make it better.  Much better, and more effective.  Even I could see it.  Some of the feedback I’ve received from readers, in fact, is how good the dialogue is.  As a result, then, I know to pay special attention to the fiction I edit for others, how well the authors do or don’t do their characters’ conversations to move the story along.

So when I embarked on this new novel that is still in progress, I knew I had to focus on the dialogue.  I still find myself going to my default place of comfort at first, especially when I’m stuck.  That’s when I know I need most to craft the better way to provide information for the story and characters for the reader.  It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve grown into this third — and invaluable — piece of advice, and it’s one I’m comfortable passing along to other writers.


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