Dialogue Class starts tomorow...

Tomorrow's the big day! The day I get to teach my favorite subject in fiction: dialogue (see link above). So, in the spirit of the class, let me give everyone a dialogue tip that's fun.

Cussing and swearing. Lots of editors and writers will tell you not to use foul language in your manuscripts. I say when the genre is appropriate (say a thriller or mystery), and the characters fit the bill, go for it, as long as it serves a purpose. Gratuitous swearing won't (or shouldn't, depending on the editor) hold up to editing.

We'll discuss the myriad reasons to use foul language in my dialogue class, but for now let's focus on one: CUSSING AS EXCLAMATION.

Writers shouldn't use so many exclamation points. They are overdramatic and should be used sparingly. Maybe once a chapter, if that. Don't use them as crutches to express the intensity or emotions of the character, because exclamation points are just punctuation. THEY DON'T ACTUALLY SAY ANYTHING.

Instead, make the dialogue tense, thick, toe-curling. And when you need to show how intense, use an occasional swear word to throw a last punch instead of the exclamation point.

"Damn it" is an obvious cuss word with umph that typically comes at the beginning or end of sentences. The minute it's used we can assume the character is not happily praying in church. And it's an automatic exclamation, so the extra punctuation isn't required.

So when your hero is telling the heroine, "I can't protect you if you don't listen!" try instead "I can't protect you if don't listen, damnit."

The more you let language (word choices, placement, flow) do the work, the less you need the punctuation to take up the slack. Don't believe me? When was the last time you quoted a character saying, "Go ahead, punk, make my day, exclamation point" ?????

Good luck, and happy swearing.