Dialog and The Secret Life of Pronouns

New tool for writing! But only for revisions – it would be a disaster in a first draft. In his book The Secret Life of Pronouns, James W. Pennebaker examines everything from Craigslist to the Federalist Papers. The books’ description says he uses “computational linguistics-in essence, counting the frequency of words we use-to show that our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints.”

Seems like a good tool for analyzing your characters’ dialog. How often do they use the word “I”? If they are in a power position, do they use it at all?

It helps to look at your work in new ways; it also helps since you will have to go over the entire manuscript many times and that gets to be a grind. I’m taking an 8 week acting course through the Atlantic Acting School. I’m reading plays – very helpful for writing dialog because that’s about all they are – but more significantly, analyzing them in a new way (see A Practical Handbook for the Actor)

So, when you go back over your manuscript, do a revision just on the dialog, be precise with your word choice, and use the lessons and techniques from playwrights and Pennebaker.

UPDATE: here’s a link from a playwright on writing dialogue

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