Dialogue Assassination

By DiAnn Mills

Writers are always learning. It’s a requirement for success in the publishing industry. We study blogs, view webinars, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, read the bestsellers, and study the how-to books. Our eyes and ears are like magnets, drawing us to seek ways to improve our craft. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, the good stuff slips right by us.

An online critique partner introduced me to a new phrase about poorly-written dialogue. His comment exploded with symbolism. It also left me groaning about my own lazy writing. My goal is to write suspense that thrills the reader, not destroy the story before it hits my editor’s desk. And I thought I wrote great dialogue until I faced his edits.

Actually, my critique partner gave me a special gift. He shared his wisdom, and a phrase he’d learned from another writer: dialogue assassination. My mind went into creative mode, and I imagined a serial killer standing over my latest suspense novel cutting it to shreds.

I was on a short path to killing my story by not paying attention to my character’s unique personality and how things were said and delivered.

“Oh no,” I whispered to my computer after reading his comments. “Have I been ignoring all the latest methods of creating powerful dialogue?”

I was embarrassed . . . and relieved. Finding problem areas in our writing is a good thing. Fixing them is even better.

I emailed my friend, Jerry Jenkins, and asked him about the phrase. Like me, he loved the imagery. A few minutes later he sent the following example of dialogue assassination:

Well, I was just wondering if you’ve hHeard from the kids yet?. I worry, about them driving all that way, especially at night, and not knowing what kind of the weather they might run into.” [That really does look like dialogue assassination, doesn’t it? J]

The improved version:

“Heard from the kids yet? I worry, them driving all that way at night, not knowing the weather they might run into.”

My path forward? I have a book due in a couple of months, and I’ve started over with chapter one by editing my dialogue. I’m also re-reading a few of my favorite books that address my characters’ verbal and nonverbal communication. Here’s my list:

Dialogue – Gloria Kempton

Story – Robert McKee

The Emotion Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

The Power of Body Language – Tonya Reiman

Writing Dialogue – Tom Chiarella

Dialogue assassination caught me unaware. If not for my critique partner’s observations, my story would have been murdered by my own hand. In short, I vow to never commit suicide by writing faulty dialogue.

What about you? Do you have areas of your dialogue that need work? Let’s pool our resources so we can help each other become better writers.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall. DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.

To learn more about DiAnn Mills’ most recent book, click on the cover below: