Marsha’s 5 word rule for dialogue

As a writer, I have found that one of the best ways of getting good feedback on works-in-progress is to join a critique group. I run a free online crit group called Kidcrit, which is  hidden from public view. One must ask for me for permission to join.

In our online crit group, we all give and get feedback on each others’ works-in-progress. I find that doing crits teaches the critter as much as the crittee.

One of the things that I have noticed after over a decade of critting and being critted is that dialogue is often used as a crutch in early drafts. I have come up with a self-editing technique that I like to call Marsha’s 5 word rule for dialogue. Here goes:

Anytime a character says more than five words at a time, look carefully at what you’re trying to accomplish with the dialogue. Often, you’re using dialogue as:

— an information dump
— backstory
— scene avoidance
— saying something instead of showing it
— saying something you’ve already just shown

Long dialogue always slows the story down. Pare whenever possible and when necessary replace with a scene. Alternately, pare out that dialogue altogether and save that information for later on in the story. Doing so can add suspense.