Soap-opera dialogue

Avoid writing soap-opera dialogue. Example:

Eric, the department manager, says to Jennifer, “Have you seen Mr. Latimore today?”

She replies, “John Latimore? The lab assistant I fired because I thought he was feeding false information to the newspapers and the county prosecutor’s office about us. He has it out for Geneserch.”

By context we know that Eric knows who Latimer is and what has happened, so why is Jennifer telling him all this? This is an example of “soap-opera dialogue.” This kind of dialogue has an obvious ulterior motive—to remind readers about who Latimore is, what has happened to him, and what he has done. Providing readers with information they need to know is necessary, of course, and a great way to do that is by using dialogue. You have to make sure, however, to avoid what I call “soap-opera dialogue.” You shouldn’t have characters discussing things they already know just for the benefit of the reader. Chitchat like this is called soap-opera dialogue because it’s used in soaps frequently to help viewers who may have missed a few shows. Example:

Rick: “Jeff got here about ten minutes ago.”

Todd: “Jeff? That sleazy attorney who broke up with Natalie last week after Dr. Lebowitz told him she had a brain tumor?”

Rick: “Yep. He flew in this morning. I guess he figures that big murder trial of his in New Orleans can go on without him.”

Hoo-boy! In conversation like this you can almost see the characters winking at each other.

Don’t use soap-opera dialogue in your novel. Unless you plan to take a bath.

Paul Thayer