‘Hi, Fran! How are you?’ I said.
‘Fine, thanks. How are you?’
‘Pretty good, thanks. Want to come to the movies with me tonight?’
‘Sure, what’s on?’
‘A rerun of Jurassic Park.’
‘Oh, great! I love that movie. What time?’
‘Six o’clock, at the Strand.’
‘OK. Can you pick me up? I don’t have a car.’
‘Sure, I’ll pick you up at 5.30. See you then.’
This is a conversation you might have in real life. Sounds authentic, right? Yeah, but … does a reader really need to ‘hear’ all the small talk? No! It slows the pace right down to a crawl. This is a trap many inexperienced authors fall into. Try this:
‘Hi, Fran,’ I said. ‘Want to come to the movies with me tonight? They’re showing a rerun of Jurassic Park. Pick you up at 5.30?’
‘Sure! I love that movie.’
[Or maybe you could just have the characters going to the movie without the preparatory conversation?]
Occasionally small talk might have a place in a novel – if, for example, you want to make a point of a character’s fondness for idle chit-chat – but, in general, pleasantries are best kept to a minimum. As a test, do a global search and see how many times you’ve written ‘How are you?’, ‘Thanks’ or ‘Bye!’
Yes, people have these conversations in real life, but they also clean their teeth, put their socks on, stack the dishwasher, blow their noses – and we don’t need to know about those things. We just assume they’re going on. The same applies to small talk.
About this blog
Through my experience as an editor, a reader and a book reviewer, I’ve noticed that some writing faults keep just popping up again and again. As an author, I’m especially aware of those writing crimes that I’m frequently tempted to commit myself. This series of brief tips addresses the common writing problems that I’ve encountered. Following them will help make your writing clear, accurate and stylish.