Being a Better Writer: Fast and Slow Character Dialogue

Welcome back writers to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer, your source for writing advice, guides, and tips.

Well that sounded weirdly canned, didn’t it? Either way, we’re here, it’s Monday, and that must mean it’s time to talk writing.

Almost. We’ve got some news to tackle first. Starting with the elephant in the room: Starforge releases next week. Yeah, that’s right. It’s almost here. November 29th people! The countdown clock is nearing zero!

By the way, one more teaser dropped over this last weekend; a fun nod to trailers of film and game, but in literary form. You can take a look at it here, and don’t worry. I didn’t include any spoilers in my trailer. Just enough clips of the insane amount of action in Starforge to tease.

Speaking of teasing, some of you long-timers may recall that the finale in Colony (the first book of the trilogy) was a staggering 90,000 or so words (roughly 300 pages) worth of action. Well, Starforge‘s is something like—depending on where you decide the finale of the “finale” begins (there’s a lot of action in this final book, since it’s wrapping it all up) is around 171,000 words, almost 600 pages worth of chaos.

Don’t worry. As with Colony there’s spots in there to catch your breath and take a minute. And that’s far from the only action in the story, either. Death, destruction, peril, loss … it’s all in these pages.

You get the picture. Now to other related news before we move into today’s BaBW: Next Monday there will not be an installment of Being a Better Writer. Instead, I will be doing a Reddit AMA due to Starforge launching the following day. So, similar to Being a Better Writer, but instead I’ll be taking live questions from Reddit. There will be a link here on the site to the AMA when it goes live, so just poke your head in here around 12 noon MST (more notes on time as the day approaches) and bring some questions about Colony, Starforge, Axtara, writing … whatever!


All right, and with that, and a reminder that if you’re in the US, this weekend is Thanksgiving (so I hope you all have a great one) let’s get down to business. Today’s BaBW is a bit on the shorter side, since I’m itching to get right back to copy-editing on Starforge. But it’s one that I’ve wanted to have a small discussion about for a while, especially as I ran into someone a few months back that was arguing against it without realizing how terrible an idea it was.

What we’re talking about today is character dialogue and its relationship to grammar. Specifically with regards to situation, but also with regards to characters themselves and how they act and speak.

So to start, right below the jump I’m going to post two sentences. I’m not going to ask much except that you read them and have them both in your mind. Got it? Alright, hit the jump and let’s start!

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Being a Better Writer: The Ellipses and the Em-dash, Odd Forms of Punctuation

Welcome back readers! I hope you had, if from the US, a successful and interesting 4th of July, and if not from the US, a solid weekend! I did. For starters, my friends and I gathered and watched all of Season 3 of Netflix’s Stranger Things. I won’t spoil anything (obviously, I mean, come on) but I will say that I think it’s better than the second season. Mostly because they fixed the largest flaw with the second season, which was some weak pacing in the last few episodes. Here everything is much more tightly bound together, and there’s never really a single moment where even if you feel like you can stop that you want to.

So yeah, it’s really good. I do recommend. Next, there are only a few hours left in the Independence Day Sale! By tomorrow, it’ll no longer be available, so if you were planning on grabbing Shadow of an EmpireColonyDead Silver, or another book of mine while they were on the cheap, now’s your last chance! You’ve only got until the end of the day!

Finally, just a quick heads-up that we’re about to start the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice here with Being a Better Writer, and we’ve put out requests to you, readers, for every bit of cliche writing advice you’ve ever been told. If you missed the announcement, there’s a lot of cliche writing advice out there that can do more harm than good, especially when it’s taken literally and without the context it once had. So BaBW is going to spend the summer breaking down that advice, stepping back to look at what it really means and what you should be learning from it.

That starts next week and runs through either the summer or until we run out of cliche advice! If you’ve got one that you’ve always heard, go ahead and post it in the comments so it can go on the list!

Right, so with all that said (you read it, right? Sale, Stranger Things, and Summer of Cliche Writing Advice!), let’s talk writing! Specifically, let’s talk about some of the lesser-taught methods of punctuation out there: the ellipses and the em-dash.

You’ve seen them before … Right? In fact, there was one right there! Those three periods right in a row, the “…” That’s an ellipses, and you’ve likely seen one from time to time when reading a book. Or a lot if you read comics, or fairly regularly if you’re reading technical or research papers that use a lot of quotations. Though the use is a bit different in that last one.

Point being, you’ve likely seen it used somewhere. But, even though used on occasion, you don’t see it used as often as, say, the comma, or the period, or the question mark, all of which are regular features of punctuation you’re taught about in a basic school education.

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