“How’s it going!” Said Marc angrily. “Why don’t you tell me!”
“No one’s angry at you, Marcus!” Soothed Marianne, rushing over to him and taking his hand. “And don’t you jump to conclusions about the rent.”
I betcha that was a pain to read, but I can assure you (wholeheartedly) that it was far, far more painful to write. It was like splitting my nails off on chalkboard. Like stubbing my toe on a running chainsaw. Like getting tripped into the road and skinning both my hands. Okay, it wasn’t as bad as all that, but still: more writers write this way than you may think.
From the writer’s eyes, this was (and is) a very legitimate scene. However, there are many obvious flaws: the punctuation communicates pretty much the exact opposite of what is being supposedly meant, the rent was never mentioned, and you don’t say “why don’t you tell me” (which is a question, by the way) to the statement “How’s it going?”
The biggest problem with awkward dialogue is that (usually) the writer creates it on accident and somehow doesn’t recognize its need to be rewritten. Hence, the characters don’t know to be awkward. Those awkward vibes have to go somewhere, and this usually means that it is conferred upon the poor reader, who closes the book in an effort to escape.
However, if you learn to recognize awkward dialogue and effectively fix it, you can avoid readers closing your book in a fit of embarrassment, and you can possibly lure them over to a sequel. Studies actually show that if you write more flowing dialogue, you actually learn to be more sociable in real life (that’s a lie, by the way).
The most important thing in correcting awkward dialogue is recognizing it. Keep your eyes and ears open for awkward dialogue, and know that no one (including yourself) is immune to it. One little slip is all it takes for a bleh dialogue scene to turn into an abomination. Be wary, and realize that it can happen to anyone–even you.
If you’re not sure, a fine idea is to read it out loud. Odds are, if it’s awkward when spoken, it will be awkward in paper. Your characters make their own mental voices in the reader’s brain: the more consistent they are, the better they’ll flow. Reading it out is a good way to test out if something is awkward or not.
If you decide that a passage is awkward, you have to make a damage assessment. Is the trouble caused by a transition, a few mannerisms, or punctuation? Look over the passage and find out what makes it awkward. Think: Does this passage sound awkward, or just different?
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what makes a passage of dialogue awkward. But if you’re dead-set on the fact that it’s unfit, rewrite the whole scene. Trust your instincts: if the nose tells you something smells, it knows what it’s talking about. Or smelling about. (Ah ha, ah ha, ah hahaha)
If you don’t want to rewrite the whole thing, however, then ask a friend, sibling, coworker, or significant other. Get someone else’s opinion on the passage. Read it aloud: ask them if something strikes them as awkward. Maybe they will hear something that you missed. If you don’t have any friends that will do this for you, though, and you still can’t find what makes it awkward, your only opinion is rewriting. Good luck on that one.
Good luck, and happy writing!
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