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  • Writer's pictureEli Allison

Dialogue: Cutting Filler

Want to improve your writing, but unsure where to start?

Then you've come to the right place. I've created this blog series where I show you a before and after of my very own writing talking you through my changes.

This week we're tackling filler. Because this is the last in the dialogue series, we'll also touch on adding spice, and sounding natural.

Get that filler out of my face

For almost every section of dialogue you'll write, (at the beginning at least) you'll write three sentences when you just need one. The best way to explain as always with Writing transformation is to show you. So no Jim or Jill today something brand new; we're going, off-road people! I'm going to show you an early draft of a radio play I wrote for a BBC competition. The BBC's yearly open call-outs for writers is something I try and enter every year. (If you're UK based it's an absolute must, as the BBC is the biggest hirer of new writers by far.)

This is the first scene.

1st Draft


2nd Draft


We've cut to the bare bones, but the relevant information is still there: sharper because we've cut away all the distractions. Each character's voice resonates because all the filler has been removed. That's not to say speaking parts should be a robotic exchange, with the bare minimum. I deliberately kept Zara's sweet childlike speech about her age, because:

A: It gives information we need.

B: It changes the rhyme of the exchange, which helps keeps the 'reader' or listener in this case engaged.

C: It's natural. Children naturally chat shit like pissed Nanas on a cruise it just goes on and on and on. Which brings us nicely too...

Making Dialogue Sound Natural

First and most important tip. Read it out loud. If it sounds stunted and awkward, it probably is.

The second tip. Natural doesn't mean replicate how we actually talk. Next time you're out and about listen to how people speak. It's littered with 'ummms' 'errrs' people talking over each other, unfinished sentences, unanswered questions*, random dull day-to-day fluff. Unless it's a deliberate vibe/effect you are going for, you should stay fuck away from it. Natural dialogue is about characterisation, what's natural for your character.

Sometimes it's about saying nothing at all. Think of those long silences after arguments, think about the words that mean the opposite, the tight 'I'm fine', the over-aggression to fear. Being a good writer comes from seeing human interactions, distilling it into it's purest form, and creating a story around it.

*Characters avoiding a question or answering something else entirely is good, encouraged even (Aaron Sorkin is a flipping God at this) but think of context. Why are they avoiding the question? Why are they fixated on a question from five minutes ago? Make sure the 'jumps' are within the limits of what you're trying to achieve with the conversation.

Don't Be Afraid To Dream A Little Bigger Darling

Interesting people say interesting things. Don't be afraid to make your character less ordinary; I'm not talking about the power to bend steel, (although there is nothing wrong with superhero stuff, I love a good Marvel). I'm talking about the old man down the street who was a German spy during the war or the 'soccer Mom' who's a COD enthusiast or a lawyer who is an expert on antique guns. Adding layers to characters means they have more to say and ways of surprising not just your reader but you.

So Remember...

Hope you enjoyed my dive into dialogue join me next week I'm talking scenes. Always happy to chat writing, stories, and the end of the world, (dystopian writer here) so head on over to that there Twitter and hit me up with your own tips or just to say hello.

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