In addition to over-using dialogue, one common tic I see are conversations that are constantly interrupted with dramatic pauses, empty gestures, ellipses, and other “beats” that are meant to control how the reader hears the dialogue.
You’ll see entire long conversations unfold like this where nothing much is gained by the interruptions:
“You see,” Nathan said, scratching his chin. “I… Well, you see…” Nathan cast his eyes at the person he was speaking to. “I probably…”
“Yes?” the person asked, leaning forward. “Go on.”
“Well,” Nathan said, waiting another beat for good measure. “I probably… Well, I probably could have just gotten on with it in the first place.”
Don’t over-engineer the rhythm of your dialogue! It takes the reader out of the moment and makes a conversation feel choppy. The hand of the author can feel far too apparent.
Sure. Dramatic pauses can add some anticipation, but use them very sparingly and strategically. Only when it’s within character for someone to be dramatic, and even then only when it’s really, really necessarily.
For regular conversations: don’t overthink the rhythm.
You hear the dialogue one way. Let the reader hear it their own way.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
And if you like this post: subscribe to my newsletter!
Art: Ein Gespräch am Sockel einer steinernen Vase by Jan Weenix