Writing the Right Words

Q: I want to write a book but no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to get the right words to make the story visual and make the reader be absorbed. What words would be best as describing the characters and when should I stop describing them? Secondly I’m not sure how to go into conversation? It seems too plain and boring to just say he said this and she said that. -Tyler


A:
Elmore Leonard said it best. “I leave out the parts that readers skip.” You don’t need two pages on what the character looks like. (He was of medium height and build, he had blue eyes, brown hair, yadda yadda. Two sentences later, I’ve forgotten all of it, anyway.)

Just give the reader one or two things to hang onto for each character. Like this character is the guy with the ridiculous moustache. This one is the woman with the spiky hair and the big Yoko Ono sunglasses. That’s all the reader needs.

Conversation? It’s only plain and boring if what they’re saying is plain and boring. If it advances the plot, if it reveals character, then it’s interesting.

If mustache guy and Yoko are talking about where they want to eat lunch and neither can quite get the words out, that they both just want to go get a hotel room, then it’s REALLY interesting. As long as it all sounds like two genuine human beings talking, it works.

Best advice on dialog I ever heard. Don’t put words in your characters’ mouths. Listen to what they say, and then write it down.

Steve Hamilton, Author of the Alex McKnight Novels
Winner of the Edgar and Shamus Awards for Best First Novel