Rule #6 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #6

6: Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

Ha! This made me think of the Total Transformation program.  I like the “no speeches at all” rule better, but there are times when one of our characters tends to get chatty, right?

Always always always break up a long amount of dialog with action, setting, or emotion.  Think of it.  If you are listening to someone for a long time, you shift your weight, right?  The speaker paces the floor, uses hand gestures.  The curtains blow around a window. Tons of things are happening all around your speaker.

Don’t count on your reader to make these things up themselves.  Show them. It will make your scene more real, and you won’t lose your reader and have them miss something important.

Oh, and while you’re at it… try to curb that speech down a little.  Less is more, I always say!

Try it!  Can you feel how much cleaner your speech reads just by adding a little action?



21 responses to “Rule #6 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

  1. Very wise words, much like my very critical first writer’s group. I learned my lesson! 🙂

  2. I’m better at keeping my characters’ speeches short than I am at reining in my own real life diatribes. :o)

  3. I can certainly agree with this advice because it’s something I had to learn when I started writing. My archaeologists could really talk. And talk. And talk. Of course, that’s characteristic of a lot of academic types. 😉 Still, their extended dialogues had to get broken up!

  4. Gray Dawster

    Yes I agree, keeping a character’s dialogue simple works much better and by adding a clear description to the scene enables the reader to engage deeper into the story, it certainly beats the rambling alternative that is for sure 🙂

    Have a wonderful rest of day my friend…


  5. I like this, and I think I’ve instinctively used the technique myself. But I would suggest you not just add random details in breaking up extended dialogues. Plant clues. Foreshadow. Characterize. Look for ways to get the most out of these moments.

  6. I agree about short(er) speeches. Even in real life, have you ever noticed a listener’s eyes wander or look at their watch etc. when listening to a long one sided-conversation?

  7. This post made me smile as the thought of John Galt’s speech at the end of “Atlas Shrugged” came to mind. Ayn Rand could’ve used this advice!

  8. I think you want to add in beats for sure, but the 3 line rule seems a bit stiff. I think some scenes can go a bit longer, but it’s all writer/reader’s preference, right? As is everything! Good to have your guidelines though 🙂

  9. I’ve noticed that even listening to Book Radio, I prefer the conversational to the ‘speech’ mode. I do pay better attention.

  10. I was reading an article last week that alleged the best fiction is like a screenplay: everything occurs through dialogue unless it must be described because readers see the unconscious ticks, shuffles, &c. their own minds create much better than the ones they are told happen.

    I suspect that the actual speech-to-events mix differs depending on what the plot or scene is about.

    I now have an odd desire to attempt the same science-fiction or high fantasy story using only dialogue and only description. I also have many other more sensible stories upon which to work, so will probably find the idea again in six months and wonder why I had it.

  11. All talk and no action…must remember not to do that

  12. All talk and no action…must remember not to do that