This week’s video points out a common and annoying dialogue pitfall and explains how to avoid it.
Video Transcription: One of the biggest challenges for any writer is the necessity of creating realistic dialogue. It’s surprisingly difficult to recreate the patterns and nuances of human conversation. If you can write ace dialogue, you’ll have agents, editors, and readers all clambering at your door. However, on your way to this enviable state, make sure you’re not falling into one of the most common—and, in my personal opinion, one of the most annoying—dialogue pitfalls: the overuse of direct address.
Direct address occurs whenever one character calls another character by name. As in, “Hey, John, could you give me that wrench?” Direct address accomplishes several things, most notably identifying the character being spoken to and applying a certain amount of emphasis to whatever information follows. Used in moderation, both these accomplishments are admirable and necessary tricks of the trade. However, used to excess, they can become both ridiculous and frustrating, as demonstrated in a fantasy I read that had the characters calling each other by name in practically every line of dialogue.
How often do we call each other by name in real life? Pay attention to direct address in your own conversation, and you’ll be surprised how little you actually call people by name. As a general rule, direct address is used only at the beginning of a conversation, when we’re trying to get someone’s attention, or when we’re trying to emphasize a point. Emphasis, in all its forms, must be treated with caution by the writer, since it’s far too easy to neutralize its effect through overuse. Every time one of your characters calls another by name, stop and reevaluate the line of dialogue. Would it be just as strong—or or perhaps even stronger—without the occurrence of direct address?
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Story by K.M. Weiland