Mar 22 Written by 

"Unfelt Words" in Written Dialogue

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Writer Carol Bly had a trick for improving and tightening dialogue in fiction and nonfiction. Take a page of dialogue from your manuscript, lay a one-inch-wide ruler on the left margin of your writing, and pencil a line down the ruler’s right side. Everything in front of the penciled line must go.

Bly wrote, “It will make the content of the dialogue leap forth: it will remove the mass-culture-sound of extra low-key, unfelt words.” Those “unfelt words” include the sentence-starters “Oh,” “Yeah,” “Well,” “Look,” “Hey,” “Uh,” “Just,” “So,” “Whoa,” "Um," or the like. People really use those words, but all writers will agree that content is more important, and Bly’s trick does what it claims to. Examples:

“Well, it’s about time you got here.”

Better: “It’s about time you got here.”

“Yeah, I have tickets.”

Better: “I have tickets.”

“Hey, don’t hang up.”

Better: “Don’t hang up.”

“Look, we need a map.”

Better: “We need a map.”

“So did you get my message?”

Better: “Did you get my message?”



Catherine Rankovic

Writer, with 30+ years' writing and publishing experience, 20+ years' teaching experience. Last book read: Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton.