May 8, 2012

Dunno What to Call It ... Dialogue Revision-Foo

I don't really like to write craft posts -- I'm no authority on writing. I'm just a super-imaginative dyslexic who's mastered reading(just not out loud, God no...) and decided to give writing a go. That's it.

Well, that and I'm addicted to craft books. But I can't tell you whether this habit of mine is in any of them. Like most of the lessons which make the most sense to me, I think it's just from life experience and noticing patterns.

I love to write dialogue. In fact, when I write, it's in layers, and dialogue is what comes to me first. I blast through it like a screenplay and then go back to try and layer in narrative/emotions/yaddayaddafoo. Today, while revising, I noticed a pattern--a habit--and I'm not sure whether it's a good or a bad one.

I swap out colloquialisms and pat phrases with character-specific synonymous new phrases. Since I like to label people crazy, so we'll use that as as an example.

Old Stand-bys for the crazy-labeling:
  • She's crazy. (generic, on-the-nose, uninteresting)
  • She's nuttier than a fruitcake. (sillier, but still generic and cliched)
  • He's not playing with a full deck. (so commonly said it's generic)

Swapped out with character-specific phrases:
    (Examples from actual family sayings. Yes, we're a colorful lot.)
  • He's a half-a-bubble off plumb. (Credit: Dad, the carpenter)
  • Some of the suds have gone out of her dishwater. (Credit: Stay-at-home mom)
  • He's not painting with a full palette. (Credit: Me! Art chick likey)

I do the phrase-swapping willy-nilly, sometimes first draft, sometimes in revisions, sometimes I take it back out if it looks dumb later. And, of course, it's not just for the 'She's Crazy' phrases. Anything that is super-cliched is a possible target.

I don't know if this is good because it defines character voices, or if it'd be irritating in anything but miniscule numbers. Thoughts?


  1. Love your character-specific phrases :)

  2. I'm with Lacey. I like it. Nothing's worse than a cliched saying IMHO. As long as the version you actually put in is not so weird it draws attention to itself, if that makes sense (I like your versions very much btw!). I tend to do what you do too actually. I write the cliche if I can't think of anything better at the time, then do something a bit different with it in edits. I reckon it's a good way to tackle it! :-)

  3. Love your new ways of saying crazy, much better than the same old cliches.
    I too have silly nicknames for my family members. Thanks to me my daughter is now called the Teenager named Miss Thang Tammy and my sister who's last name is Bitar pronounced "Beetar" is now called the Betard. I know this is not nice, but so so funny.

    1. Haha I choked on my pop when I read Betard. Sounds like family, yup!

  4. I think anything is better than a cliche. And swapping them out for character-specific phrases is a great idea - gets rid of the tired stock phrase AND does some character building! I think you're right that it could get old (or make the character seem kind of cartoonish) if they're doing it constantly, but in small doses it sounds like a great solution.

  5. @Lacey: Thank Ya. We like to make up sayings about as much as we like to make up words -- which is rather a lot.

    @Jackie & Jessica -- I think the worry I have is the whole cartoonish thing. I'm never quite sure where the line is between brilliant and RIDICULOUS! Well, here's hoping that beta readers will be able to spot those that traipse across the Ridicu-line.

  6. I do the same thing when I edit. Glad to know I'm not alone. :)

  7. Everyone wants to be unique now. People don't want to fit in, as writers, this allows us to establish our identity. Like the idea. Thanks

  8. I think that's a great idea!! I'm reading Margie Lawson's empowerin Emotions lecture packet and she talks about refreshening up cliches and dialogue tags so you don't bore your reader.

  9. I love coming across a phrase in a book that I've never read before. Especially when it feels like the author had a bit of fun making it up. And double especially when it fits the character's personality. But one thing I've noticed with metaphors, and it might be a personal preference thing: Less is definitely more. They do get old fast. Sometimes simplicity is the answer. (I'm talking to you, George R R Martin! I'm shaking my fist as the wind howls like a wolf and the cold cuts like a knife!)

  10. I love it :) Keep doing what your doing, noticing things and telling stories and writing dialog. Keep it up!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  11. Hi Amalie! I've been kind of MIA on the commenting front lately, but I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster blog award. I hope it sends more people your way! :)

  12. I do like to collect interesting new phrases:)


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