Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gail Sattler: When To Write Incomplete Sentences, and When Not To

Often writers use incomplete sentences in dialogue without really thinking of how it reads, simply thinking that if they write how people talk, if it’s realistic, then it’s right.

But that’s not necessarily so.

The reader is not listening to the story. The reader is READING. Our brains process things slightly differently through the eyes than through the ears.
Record a normal conversation and type it word for word, or maybe watch a movie that is closed captioned where every word an utterance is typed. Then read it without seeing the action. With all the ums, wells, pauses, and broken English it often feels like someone has mental problems.

We can't write dialogue like people really talk because often it would just sound... stupid.

Good dialogue in a book is condensed and modified so it reads quickly and smoothly, because it's how the reader thinks, not what they hear. Our brains fill in the missing words when we are listening but reading is more literal and not as filtered. 

If you listen to someone talking who uses a lot of incomplete sentences, general opinion is usually that the person is less intelligent or less educated than normal, because an average at-least-high-school-educated person speaks well.

Think about all the noise our brains naturally filter out when we are listening. White noise from the light fixtures. Sirens. Background chatter. Dogs barking. Computer hums and beeps. But when we are reading, our brains do not as easily filter IN the missing words. Instead we are left with a mental impression that it didn’t flow easily. Often the reader is left with the impression that the character is less educated, or a lower class.

In some cases, that may be true. Go ahead and use incomplete sentences when the gang-level drug dealer is speaking. But do not use incomplete sentences when the Fortune-500 billionaire is addressing his board of directors.

Use incomplete sentences when your speaker is a hillbilly. Do not use incomplete sentences when your speaker is a senator.

The only time a major character should use incomplete sentences is in a panic situation, just like if it were in real life, you needed to save time and getting the words out fast would make a difference. That is realistic, and chances are, if you've written it well, the reader is also reading faster, too.

No one will ever complain about reading an author if they always use good grammar and complete sentences, because that makes it easy to read.
But when something isn’t easy to read, most readers who are not writers can't explain why. They just know that even though the story was good, it wasn’t as pleasurable to read as the last book they read.  

Make your book easy to read. And remember, the easier a book is to read, the harder it was to write.

Gail Sattler lives in Vancouver BC, where you don’t have to shovel rain, with her husband, three sons, two dogs, and a lizard that is quite cuddly for a reptile. When she’s not writing, Gail plays acoustic bass for a string orchestra, and electric bass for a local jazz band. When she’s not writing or making music, Gail likes to sit back with a hot coffee and read a book written by someone else.

Visit Gail Sattler’s website at www.gailsattler.com

Check out Gail Sattler’s next book, Dating the Best Man

Could Cory Bellanger Be More Than a Friend?

The tall, dark and handsome forest ranger has a way of making Daphne Carruthers feel safe. Her brother’s buddy is also awakening feelings deeper than friendship. Daphne wants to believe in the future Cory’s offering, but first she must come to terms with her painful past.

Helping Daphne recover from a difficult relationship, Cory knows he has to be careful where her heart is concerned. And Cory is hiding a secret of his own that could destroy the fragile trust they’re starting to build. Can he stop their pasts from sabotaging their future together—and convince Daphne he’s the best man for her?

Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No comments:

Post a Comment