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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > February 2016 > Crime: Leave it out!

Crime: Leave it out!

Nothing kills a novel faster than clichéd, clunky dialogue. Get it right with advice from crime author and MA tutor Claire McGowan

A novel is not a script. We’re fortunate that we have many more tools at our disposal, from narration to inner monologue to description. But even with that, clunky dialogue is something that will kill a novel faster than you can say ‘Look out, he’s got a shooter!’ In a crime novel, dialogue needs to work hard, as it has to convey information, tell us something about the characters (and possibly even function as a clue or red herring), and also not interfere with the pace or momentum of the plot. Sounds like a lot!


The greatest tension in fictional dialogue is between realism and drama. We don’t want to recreate actual speech exactly, with all its hums and haws and its banal niceties, but we want to give the flavour of how real life people speak. People aren’t usually ordered and insightful, or at least not most of the time, and especially not when they’re upset or frightened. People who are very distressed may not be able to speak at all, from shock or terror. Even in everyday speech people interrupt, repeat themselves, trail off, correct themselves, and often make no sense. Ordered, corporate speech is as boring to read as it is to listen to. Even if your police officers talk in institutional jargon, try to make it interesting, and intelligible, for the uninitiated reader.

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About Writing Magazine

BUMPER ISSUE: Plan your writing year with our definitive guide to festivals, workshops, courses and events for writers in 2016 101 ways to inspire new ideas How to: Market your ebook Write the perfect submission letter Sell your article ideas 'Leave it out!": Create cliché-free crime dialogue Get active! Make the most of your writing retreat AND Get Booked at your local library Star interview with crime writer Louise Welsh, on tackling dark topics with a light touch

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