Archive for the ‘Dialogue’ Category

The Dialogue Controversy

Friday, March 30th, 2012

jungleDialogue can be surprisingly controversial.

In fact, the submission editors of some literary journals say that they are so offended by stories that open with dialogue that they reject them outright. These submission editors argue that readers can be confused when they don’t know who is speaking or what is happening. Without the help of a “grounding” narrative sentence, the story gets off to an uncomfortable and disorienting start. Submission editors are so busy that they reject a confusing story in favor of one that neatly lays out the action for the reader.

At Beaumont Hardy, I am not so opposed to an opening line of dialogue, as I think it might draw the reader immediately into a story. However, some stories are so complex that writers may need to establish their openings more clearly than dialogue might allow.

Consider this example:

“But wasn’t Charlie supposed to bring the rope?”

Penelope held the flashlight and looked at her boss.

Two sentences into the story, the reader still has no idea what’s happening. Is Penelope speaking? Is Charlie Penelope’s boss? Are there two or three characters in this scene? A confused submission editor might not care enough to read more in order to answer these questions.

A story as complex as this one might need a few expository sentences to set the scene for the dialogue:

Penelope held the flashlight and looked at her boss. He was trying to pry the gate open with a crowbar. Once it swung open, he asked Penelope for the rope.

“But wasn’t Charlie supposed to bring the rope?” Penelope asked.

Or consider this example:

“The green ones are three for a dollar.”

Susan and her brothers shoved each other as they stood in front of the carnival barker.

A reader might wonder who is talking and what that person is talking about. What are the green ones? Is Susan telling her brothers the price of them? Or is the carnival barker the one who is speaking?

Of course, one assumes that the author of the story will explain everything at some point. However, a busy submissions editor might not have time for that explanation, and she or he might toss the story onto the rejection pile after reading the two confusing sentences. Once again, some expository explanation might help:

Susan and her brothers shoved each other as they stood in front of the carnival barker. They had waited all week to buy the marbles he kept in the locked glass case. When Susan asked how much the marbles cost, the barker smiled and unlocked the case. “The green ones are three for a dollar.”

Despite what some submissions editors might say, however, I still think a clear opening line of dialogue can be an effective beginning to a story. If the dialogue conveys enough meaning to explain the action and to suggest the relationship between the characters, it can be a refreshing start to a story.

Consider this example:

“Give me your money.”

The gun felt slippery in Gavin’s hands, but he kept it pointed at the man with the briefcase.

Or:

“I never knew I could bake a pie in a hubcap.”

Susan carried the dessert into the dining room and wondered why her guests looked so startled.

Let us know what you think about dialogue in an opening sentence.

Writers can find the editorial guidelines of various journals at Duotrope, a website that provides an invaluable service to those who might not otherwise know where to submit their stories. The website keeps exhaustive and updated lists of online and print publications that are actively seeking submissions.

Turning Narration into Dialogue

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

One of the most challenging tasks facing a fiction writer is to convey basic background information to the reader. Writers want readers to know their characters’ back stories, their early challenges, their professional backgrounds, their insecurities, and their hair color. But readers usually want to dive into the “real” action of the story, and they can find too much information tedious.

Therein lies the writer’s challenge—to provide enough information for the story to make sense but in a way that keeps the reader’s attention.

One of the most interesting ways for writers to convey important information painlessly to their readers is through believable dialogue. Many writers can rework narrative passages, turning them into information-rich dialogue that keeps the plot humming along.

What follows are two examples of narrative sections successfully converted into dialogue. The changes are major, but the passages read more colorfully and believably for the reader.

Example 1:

narration
Shirley had always been afraid of spiders. She wasn’t sure when she first noticed her fear, but it had been debilitating for a very long time. She couldn’t even look at a spider without feeling faint. Now, as she followed Steve into the cave, she could feel her fear resurface. She didn’t want Steve to know how afraid she was.

dialogue
“You’re not afraid of spiders, are you, Shirley?” Steve smiled as he held a branch aside for her.

“No, no. I mean, not particularly.” Shirley ran a finger over her upper lip, hoping Steve hadn’t noticed the droplets of perspiration.

“I mean—because this cave might be full of them.” Steve looked back at her.

“No, I’m fine.” Shirley took several deep breaths, hoping her lightheadedness would pass.

Example 2:

narration
Tommy was a spoiled child. He always knew what he wanted, and he argued with his mother until he got it. Sometimes, he made scenes in stores, threatening to throw tantrums if his mother wouldn’t buy him a toy or game. Today, he made a spectacular scene, and his mother bought him a new toy car, just as he wanted.

dialogue
“I want that car—that one—that red one. I want it. I want the red car.” Tommy leaned out of the shopping cart, nearly toppling it with his weight.

“Tommy, we’re not going through this again,” his mother said. “I told you the last time. I’m not buying you more toys.” She tried to keep the cart upright as Tommy leaned toward the toy.

“I said I want it!” Tommy put his foot on the seat of the cart. “I want it now.”

“Tommy, please. Don’t do this again.” His mother lowered her voice, trying to make Tommy talk more softly.

“I want it! Get it for me! Get it for me!” Tommy had begun to bellow, his voice losing control in the way it always did when he and his mother went to the toy store.

“Tommy, sit down. You’re going to fall.”

A little girl stood in the aisle and stared at them. Tommy’s mother smiled weakly at her. “Look, Tommy, you’re scaring this little—“

“I said NOW. I want it NOW.”

There would be no reasoning with Tommy today. His mother ran her hand through her hair. “OK, but this is the last time,” she said. She handed Tommy the car and settled him back into the shopping cart. Tommy smiled quietly to himself.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Show. Don’t Tell.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

waterWriters who work with editors often receive the same admonition: “Show; don’t tell,” and the editors are usually correct that more “showing” would be a good idea. However, many authors have confessed to me that they cannot quite see the difference between “showing” and “telling.” In other words, they can’t tell when their “telling” has overpowered their “showing,” and they would like concrete examples of both “showing” and “telling.”

In general, it’s far more interesting to learn about a character or situation through action or dialogue, rather than through straight narration. In much the same way that we would rather see a dramatic event for ourselves than hear someone else retell it, a reader would rather “see” events unfolding, rather than just “hear” about them through narration.

The following is an unedited piece of fiction that could use more “showing.” Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

The man might have been envious of her, she couldn’t tell. He kept making snide comments to her as they ate, and he acted restless and uncomfortable. Jeannine always thought that envy had to be reserved for members of the same group—only young girls could envy young girls, only middle aged men could envy middle aged men. But she was a young girl, and he was a middle aged man. And he was envious. That was perfectly clear from everything he had said to her.

Earlier in the evening, Mrs. Hastings had served a spectacular coq a vin, and everyone had been very impressed. Mrs. Hastings claimed that she had worked all day on it, and she probably had. The man looked envious. He had eaten quietly, with his head down and his eyes on his plate. The conversation was stilted.

Now that it was time for dessert, the man had become more lively. He told Mrs. Hastings funny stories, and he made several pithy comments. However, he was not more friendly to Jeannine. Instead, he seemed to have become more surly than he had been earlier in the evening. He asked Jeannine various questions, and she felt that she answered them unsatisfactorily every time. He grew more angry.

At last, the man set down his tea cup and looked across the table directly at Jeannine. She waited for him to say something, resting her fork quietly on her plate. The creme brulee had been delicious. The man glared at Jeannine and asked her if she would rather be happy, wealthy or lucky?

Jeannine was unsure what her response ought to be. She looked around the table, but everyone else seemed to be looking at their plates. She asked the man why she would ever have to choose between the three.

The man asked her to just answer the question. He was insistent.

Jeannine started to laugh but realized that the man was waiting for her response. She said she supposed she would rather be lucky.

“You’re wrong!” the man shouted triumphantly. He repeated that her answer had been wrong.

“Coffee, anyone?” Mrs. Hastings asked quickly.

Jeannine started to say that she hadn’t even really understood the question.

The man told her that she was wrong, because she was supposed to want to be happy. “I asked my own daughter that question, and she said ‘happy.’ She has her priorities straight.” The man looked piercingly at Jeannine.

Jeannine argued that ‘lucky’ was subjective. She said that if someone thought it was lucky to be happy, then that person probably would be happy.

“No, that’s the wrong answer.” The man looked around the table in satisfaction, as if he had just confirmed some long-held theory.

After editing, the story reads something like this:

The man might have been envious of her. She couldn’t tell. He kept giving her evil looks as they ate, and he seemed restless and uncomfortable. Jeannine always thought that envy had to be reserved for members of the same group—only young girls could envy young girls, only middle-aged men could envy middle-aged men. But she was a young girl, and he was a middle-aged man. And he was envious. That much was clear.

Earlier in the evening, Mrs. Hastings had served a spectacular coq au vin, and everyone had been very impressed. Mrs. Hastings claimed that she had worked all day on it, and she probably had. The man looked envious. He had eaten quietly, with his head down and his eyes on his plate. The conversation was stilted.

Now that it was time for dessert, the man had become more lively. However, he was not more friendly to Jeannine. Instead, he seemed to have become more surly than he had been earlier in the evening. He asked Jeannine various questions, and she felt that she answered them unsatisfactorily every time. He grew more angry.

At last, the man set down his tea cup and looked across the table directly at Jeannine. She waited for him to say something, resting her fork quietly on her plate. The crème brûlée had been delicious. The man glared at Jeannine and said, “Would you rather be happy, wealthy or lucky?”

Jeannine was unsure what her response ought to be. She looked around the table, but everyone else seemed to be looking at their plates. She said, “Why would I ever have to choose?”

The man said, “Just answer the question—happy, wealthy or lucky?” He was insistent.

Jeannine started to laugh but realized that the man was waiting for her response. “I guess lucky,” she said. “I guess, because…”

“You’re wrong!” the man shouted triumphantly. “That’s the wrong answer!”

“Coffee, anyone?” Mrs. Hastings asked quickly.

“But I didn’t even understand the question, and why wouldn’t…?” Jeannine started.

“It’s wrong, because you’re supposed to want to be happy. I asked my own daughter that question, and she said ‘happy.’ She has her priorities straight.” The man looked piercingly at Jeannine.

“But ‘lucky’ is subjective. If you think it’s lucky to be happy, and you consider yourself lucky, you probably are happy,” Jeannine said.

“No, that’s the wrong answer.” The man looked around the table in satisfaction, as if he had just confirmed some long-held theory.

Below is the text with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.):

The man might have been envious of her,. Sshe couldn’t tell. He kept giving her evil looks making snide comments to her as they ate, [It would be better to give an example of a snide comment than merely to say that the man was making these kinds of comments. The biggest part of “showing” is to include a character’s actual words, in dialogue. Did the man make any particular comments you could quote here? If not, I’ve added “giving her evil looks,” which does not require an example in dialogue.] and he seemedacted [Normally, I resist the use of the word “seem,” but if you say that the man is acting in a certain way, it might be better to give actual examples of what he is doing. Are there any examples of his restlessness and discomfort that you could include?] restless and uncomfortable. Jeannine always thought that envy had to be reserved for members of the same group—only young girls could envy young girls, only middleaged men could envy middleaged men. But she was a young girl, and he was a middleaged man. And he was envious. That much was clearwas perfectly clear from everything he had said to her. [Because the reader has not seen a specific example of what the man has actually said, I think this shorter sentence is sufficient.]

Earlier in the evening, Mrs. Hastings had served a spectacular coq au vin, and everyone had been very impressed. Mrs. Hastings claimed that she had worked all day on it, and she probably had. [This sentence is interesting, but what does it really mean? Is there some reason to question Mrs. Hastings’s claim about her dish? Why question her if she is probably telling the truth? In other words, why do you use the word “claimed?”] The man looked envious. He had eaten quietly, with his head down and his eyes on his plate. The conversation was stilted. [Although you do not give specific examples of the stilted conversation, this short sentence works well here. “Telling,” as opposed to “showing” is a good idea here, because you want to keep the story moving.]

Now that it was time for dessert, the man had become more lively. He told Mrs. Hastings funny stories, and he made several pithy comments. [I cut these two sentences, because I think they require a dialogue example. Can you mention some specific funny or pithy comments the man makes?] However, he was not more friendly to Jeannine. Instead, he seemed to have become more surly than he had been earlier in the evening. He asked Jeannine various questions, and she felt that she answered them unsatisfactorily every time. He grew more angry.

At last, the man set down his tea cup and looked across the table directly at Jeannine. She waited for him to say something, resting her fork quietly on her plate. The crèeme brûuee had been delicious. [I like the way you inject this seemingly irrelevant sentence into the action here. It seems a real thought that Jeannine would have at this moment.] The man glared at Jeannine and asked her if she would said, “Would you rather be happy, wealthy or lucky? [This is an important moment in the story, and I think you need to use the man’s exact words. If you merely paraphrase his words, the action is less precise, and the reader might not understand the importance of this question.]

Jeannine was unsure what her response ought to be. She looked around the table, but everyone else seemed to be looking at their plates. She said, “Why asked the man why she would I ever have to choose?” between the three. [Once again, I think the character’s direct words make the action more immediate for the reader.]

The man asked her to said, “Jjust answer the question–happy, wealthy or lucky?”. [I restated the question for more emphasis and to be sure the reader knows exactly what the man is asking.] He was insistent.

Jeannine started to laugh but realized that the man was waiting for her response. She said she supposed she would rather be lucky. “I guess lucky,” she said. “I guess, because…” [I added this last sentence to emphasize Jeannine’s uncertainty and the man’s impatience.]

“You’re wrong!” the man shouted triumphantly. He repeated that her answer had been wrong. “That’s the wrong answer!” [Directly quoting the man’s repetition emphasizes his unreasonableness and makes the action more precise for the reader.]

“Coffee, anyone?” Mrs. Hastings asked quickly. [I like the interruption this question provides. It’s very believable in a dinner-party context.]

Jeannine started to say that she hadn’t even really understood the question. “But I didn’t even understand the question, and why wouldn’t…?” [I added this sentence, although you might want to reword it. I just mean to indicate that showing Jeannine’s lack of understanding, through dialogue, is more precise than just telling the reader about it.]

The man told her that she was wrong, because she was supposed to want to be happy. “It’s wrong, because you’re supposed to want to be happy. I asked my own daughter that question, and she said ‘happy.’ She has her priorities straight.” The man looked piercingly at Jeannine. [Once again, I think the action is more vivid for the reader if you directly quote the characters. This man, in particular, reveals very strong emotions, and his direct words can convey that emotion powerfully.]

Jeannine argued that ‘lucky’ was subjective. She said that if someone thought it was lucky to be happy, then that person probably would be happy. “But ‘lucky’ is subjective. If you think it’s lucky to be happy, and you consider yourself lucky, you probably are happy,” Jeannine said. [Once again, I use the character’s direct words, in order to “show” the reader more.]

“No, that’s the wrong answer.” The man looked around the table in satisfaction, as if he had just confirmed some long-held theory.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Dialogue Alone

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

leavesAaron Petrovich has written a fascinating novella, The Session, in which he tells an entire story through dialogue. Much of the book is a conversation between two police detectives, but another character joins the exchange in the middle of the story. Solely through dialogue, Petrovich differentiates between characters, establishes plot and narrative and creates compelling tension.

The following is the unedited version of a story told almost completely through dialogue. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

“Do we have any more of that wine?”
“What wine—the white one?”
“No, the red. The Chianti. The one that the Thompsons brought over when we had dinner the other night.”
“Which one? I don’t remember that one.”
“You know, the one that the Thompsons brought over.”
“Oh, that one. Yeah, that one was pretty good.”
“Yeah, it was.”
“Here you go. Do you want any cheese?”
“No. No cheese. But could you pass me the map?”
“Yeah. Here you go. I think I’ll have some cheese. So what do you think about the bank robbery? Where should we enter the building?”
“Well, I think this back door might be the way to go.”
“Did you talk to Lenny? Did he get the crowbars?”
“Yeah, he got them.”
“I think we need to be careful about the outdoor security light. It’s not on this diagram, but we know it’s there. If we don’t manage to shut it off, we’ll be pretty visible when we break in.”
“What kinds of things do they have in the bank? Will we be rich when it’s all over?”
“Well, we have to find the safety deposit boxes. That’s where all the valuable things are.”
“OK. Well, let’s start planning.”

The final edited passage reads something like the following.

“Do we have any more of that wine?”
“What wine—the white one?”
“No, the red. The Chianti. The one the Thompsons brought over when we had dinner the other night.”
“Here you go. Do you want any cheese?”
“No. No cheese. But could you pass me the map?”
“Yeah, so what do you think about the plan? Where should we enter the building?”
“Well, I think this back door might be the way to go.”
“Did you talk to Lenny? Did he get the crowbars?”
“Yeah, he got them.”
“I think we need to be careful about the outdoor security light. It’s not on this diagram, but we know it’s there. If we don’t manage to shut it off, we’ll be pretty visible when we go in.”
“So do you think we’ll be rich when it’s all over?”
“Well, we have to find the safety deposit boxes. That’s where all the valuable things are.”
“OK. Well, let’s start planning.”

Below is the text with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.)

“Do we have any more of that wine?”
“What wine—the white one?”
“No, the red. The Chianti. The one that the Thompsons brought over when we had dinner the other night.”
“Which one? I don’t remember that one.”
“You know, the one that the Thompsons brought over.”
“Oh, that one. Yeah, that one was pretty good.”
“Yeah, it was.”
[Although this back-and-forth dialogue might be realistic, it doesn’t contribute to the plot. In this case, it might be better to sacrifice some realism in order to keep the action moving. Too much dialogue with little plot movement can also get confusing; the reader might forget which character is speaking.]
“Here you go. Do you want any cheese?”
“No. No cheese. But could you pass me the map?”
“Yeah,. Here you go.[Even though this character might say, “Here you go” twice in real life, I think it’s better to vary his/her comments in this exchange.] I think I’ll have some cheese. [Once again, I think this sentence can go, in order to keep the plot moving.] sSo what do you think about the planbank robbery? [Presumably, both characters know that they are talking about a bank robbery, so it seems unlikely that they would actually refer to it as such. The reader might not yet know what the plan is, but the nature of the plan will become clear soon enough.] Where should we enter the building?”
“Well, I think this back door might be the way to go.”
“Did you talk to Lenny? Did he get the crowbars?”
“Yeah, he got them.”
“I think we need to be careful about the outdoor security light. It’s not on this diagram, but we know it’s there. If we don’t manage to shut it off, we’ll be pretty visible when we break in.” [The identity of this speaker is unclear. So far, it has seemed like the first speaker (the one who says, “Do we have any more of that wine?”)  is the leader of the two. Now, it seems as though the second speaker (the one who says, “What wine–the white one?”) has taken over the leadership role. Is the second speaker making this comment about the security light? Why is the document now a diagram? It was a map, above.]
What kinds of things do they have in the bank? Will we So do you think we’ll be rich when it’s all over?” [Once again, who is speaking here? This seems more like the second speaker (the one who says, “What wine–the white one?”), but the comment’s position makes it seem like it belongs to the first speaker. I shortened this comment, because it seems as though these two would have already discussed what they will find in the bank.]
“Well, we have to find the safety deposit boxes. That’s where all the valuable things are.”
“OK. Well, let’s start planning.” [Haven’t they already started planning?]

As in Petrovich’s novella, straight dialogue can make for compelling reading, as long as the conversation really moves the plot along and as long as the reader is able to distinguish between the characters.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Creating Believable Dialogue

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

flowersAt Beaumont Hardy Editing, I am particularly interested in dialogue, as it can significantly add to—or detract from—a well-plotted story. When I edit dialogue, I  examine whether it works the way conversation does in real life—whether characters say what their real-life counterparts would and whether the author relies too much on dialogue to convey information. In general, realistic dialogue doesn’t convey as much information as straight narrative would, so using dialogue to provide the reader with facts can be somewhat tricky.

The following is a passage of dialogue in its unedited form. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

Margaret sat at the table next to her brother. “It’s so good to see you again, Adam,” she beamed. “It’s been too long. Ever since you took that job as a pediatric heart surgeon in San Diego, I only get to see you at Thanksgiving. If it wasn’t for that awards ceremony you invited me to last month, I wouldn’t have seen you in ages. And to think that my little brother is the recipient of such a big award!” Margaret turned to grin at her mother, who passed her the basket of hot rolls.
“Now, Margaret,” her mother admonished. “Leave your brother alone.”
“Yes,” said her father. “As a lawyer, you know you’re just as busy as he is.”
“But being a defense attorney does give me some time to see my family,” argued Margaret.
“You mean a top-notch defense attorney,” laughed Adam. “You became partner faster than anyone else at your law firm, Birch, Birch and Beene.”
“Well, I do work hard,” Margaret smiled. “And I love my work. In fact, if I didn’t have my work, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“How about you, Mother?” queried Adam. “How are things at Midvale Volunteer Center? Are you still struggling with too many deserving children, too small a staff and a shoestring budget?”
“Yes, Adam,” groaned his mother. “I’ve been at that volunteer center for twenty years, and it’s always the same. There’s so much we want to do, and there are so many deserving children. But it’s hard, because, as you say, we’re constantly underfunded.”
“But we’re happy you two are here,” said their father. “Now, let’s start eating before all of this food gets cold.”

Here is the passage in its edited form:

Margaret sat at the table next to her brother. “It’s so good to see you again, Adam,” she said. “It’s been too long. Ever since you moved to San Diego, I hardly ever get to see you. If it wasn’t for that awards thing last month, I wouldn’t have seen you in ages. And to think that my little brother would win such a big award!” Margaret turned to grin at her mother, who passed her the basket of hot rolls.
“Now, Margaret,” her mother admonished, “leave your brother alone.”
“Yes,” said her father. “You know you’re just as busy as he is.”
“But my job gives me some time to see my family,” said Margaret.
“You mean your top-notch lawyer job?” laughed Adam. “You became partner faster than anyone else at your firm.”
“Well, I do work hard,” Margaret smiled. “And I love my work. In fact, if I didn’t have my work, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“How about you, Mother?” asked Adam. “How are things at the volunteer center? Are you still struggling with too many children and too little money?”
“Yes, Adam,” said his mother. “I’ve been at Midvale for twenty years, and it’s always the same. There’s so much we want to do, and there are so many deserving children. But it’s hard, because, as you say, we’re constantly underfunded.”
“But we’re happy you two are here,” said their father. “Now, let’s start eating before all of this food gets cold.”

Here is the passage with my editing marks visible. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.)

Margaret sat at the table next to her brother. “It’s so good to see you again, Adam,” she beamedsaid. [In general, I think “said” works best for dialogue. Many authors use colorful verbs, like “muttered” or “whinged,” but these verbs are often too much of a distraction. You might even cut “she said” altogether, since it is sufficiently clear that Margaret is speaking.] “It’s been too long. Ever since you took that job as a pediatric heart surgeon in[Although “took that job as a pediatric heart surgeon” adds important background information about Adam, it seems unlikely that Margaret would actually mention Adam’s specific position. After all, they both know what he does. It seems more likely that Margaret would just refer to the fact that Adam has moved.] to San Diego, I only hardly ever get to see you at Thanksgiving. [Once again, both Margaret and Adam probably know that they only see each other at Thanksgiving, so it might be unnecessary for Margaret to mention it.] If it wasn’t for that awards ceremony you invited me to thing last month, [I changed “ceremony” to “thing” so that Margaret’s speech would sound more colloquial.] I wouldn’t have seen you in ages. And to think that my little brother is the recipient of would win such a big award! [I changed “is the recipient of” to “would win” to, once again, make Margaret’s speech more colloquial.]” Margaret turned to grin at her mother, who passed her the basket of hot rolls.
“Now, Margaret,” her mother admonished,.lLeave your brother alone.”
“Yes,” said her father. “As a lawyer, [“As a lawyer” is unnecessary. Both Margaret and her father know that she is a lawyer. The reader might not yet know, but there are other ways to convey this information to the reader. If Margaret is the main character, it will soon become very clear to the reader that Margaret is lawyer.] Yyou know you’re just as busy as he is.”
“But my job being a defense attorney does gives [Once again, Margaret probably wouldn’t mention her specific job. I also changed “does give” to “gives,” as it seemed more colloquial.] me some time to see my family,” saidargued [“Said” is sufficient here, because the reader can tell that Margaret and her father are engaged in a good-natured argument.] Margaret.
“You mean youra top-notch lawyer job?defense attorney,” laughed Adam. “You became partner faster than anyone else at your law firm, Birch, Birch and Beene.” [I tried to make Adam’s comment a little more conversational and lighthearted. He can indicate to the reader that Margaret is a very good lawyer, although he probably would not mention the exact name of her law firm. One would assume that everyone in the family already knows its name.]
“Well, I do work hard,” Margaret smiled. “And I love my work. In fact, if I didn’t have my work, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“How about you, Mother?” askedqueried [“Queried” is one of those verbs that might be a little too colorful.] Adam. “How are things at theMidvale vVolunteer cCenter? [Adam probably wouldn’t use the name of the center when talking to his mother, although he might call it “Midvale.”] Are you still struggling with too many deserving children and too little money, too small a staff and a shoestring budget?” [I shortened Adam’s question, because it seemed unlikely that he would put so much information into it when talking to his mother. They have obviously talked about this subject previously, so he wouldn’t need to convey so much detail to her.]
“Yes, Adam,” saidgroaned [Although the volunteer center is a subject close to the mother’s heart, it seems unlikely that she would be so affected by the conversation that she would actually groan.] his mother. “I’ve been at Midvalethat volunteer center [This might be a good place for the reader to learn the name of the center. But is it necessary for the reader to learn its name? Perhaps the mother could just call it “the center” if it isn’t going to play a big role in the rest of the story.] for twenty years, and it’s always the same. There’s so much we want to do, and there are so many deserving children. But it’s hard, because, as you say, we’re constantly underfunded.”
“But we’re happy you two are here,” said their father. “Now, let’s start eating before all of this food gets cold.”

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