“This dialogue sucks,” he said.

In a perfect world of puppies and kittens, our characters would have concise and effective dialogue on every page of our novel. The protagonist and his or her buddies would be create subtext, forcing the reader to use their imagination to extrapolate meaning from intentionally missing detail. Words would be used judiciously; every word would push the story forward.

However, many writers still try to “write dialogue as they hear it,” in real life. This is not usually the best way to go about moving your plot from point A to point B. Still unsure? Record a random conversation and then transcribe it. Yes, you will probably stop halfway through due to boredom. Do you really want to inflict this pain onto your readers? Not me. I have few enough of those as it is. Why drive the rest of them back to their Netflix account?

Now, I overhear many interesting statements from caffeine-deprived patrons who drop by the coffeeshop the NEMWC (Norfolk Early Morning Writer’s Center.) So far the winner is “I had married in a brothel, but it didn’t work out the way I had hoped…” Now, if I could just fit that into one of my novels. There’s a huge story behind those 16 words. Regardless, most of our true conversations would make for rather boring books.

The point: I have finished the first draft of the first chapter of Blood Lust. It is by no means the final version. First, I need to beef up the characterization of our man Parker. I know what he is like, but you readers don’t – unless you can read my mind. I need to add some physical actions, a bit more dialogue – all of which will create the alpha male character he is supposed to be.  Hmmm. Mind readers. Interesting thought (no pun intended.) Some of my readers work for the government. For security, perhaps I should put my tin foil beanie back on?

Second, I need to take a step back and reread some books on the craft of writing. Just because you read something once, does not make you a master tradesman. If it did, I suppose I could read a book on karate and then consider myself a black belt. No, put the ego aside and pick up one of those books collecting dust on your shelf. There are tons of good books out there. We writers seem to collect them, but not necessarily read them more than once. But, it never hurts to review. I have two in mind, one of which is on my Nook, the other on my Kindle. Fortunately, I have both accounts linked to my PC so I can access them at any time. This takes care of the next several lunch hours! Facebook, thou shalt have to wait.

Having trouble with your dialogue? Think your story has well written dialogue? Check out Kristen Lamb’s blog, Warrior Writers, and the series of posts she recently published featuring guest blogger Les Edgerton. He has some very pertinent and salient comments on writing dialogue. You may be surprised. Great stuff, Les!

The point is – writing is a craft. It takes work, diligence, study and more work to create something worthwhile. And while I am justifiably proud of finishing the first draft of chapter one, I know it is far from being finished.

Time to put down the quill and put the cap back on the bottle of India ink (showing my age, yes) and do a little craft-improvement research.

TQ4R (Today’s questions for readers)

– How do you approach dialogue?

– Do you actively engage in activities designed to improve your writing skills? What are they?

Have a great weekend, people. I will be busy working on technical writing as well as reading those aforementioned references plus all of the related articles listed below. Should keep me plenty busy. See you in a few days!













9 thoughts on ““This dialogue sucks,” he said.

  1. A few of my characters talk more or less like me (usually minus the rambling, pausing for a straight minute to wrack my brain for the right word, breaking into whatever song the topic at hand reminds me of, and forgetting where in the world I was going with this), making it easy to get into a flow with their dialogue. Others talk nothing like me (sensibly… beautifully… profoundly… *concisely*…), and it can take a merry dance with cut, paste, and the backspace button to get their phraseology in line with their true selves.

    My number one guideline for dialogue is, “If the character wouldn’t say it, don’t stick it in their mouth.”
    Number two would be, “If what they’re saying isn’t telling us something we need to know or moving us at a timely clip in that direction, it may need to go.” (“But it’s funny!” “Too bad. Be funny and *useful*, next time.”)
    My preferred method of study is to look back over what I wrote ten years ago, feel appalled, and have a list of things never to do again / do the opposite of seared into my brain. (For instance, just having characters babble at each other until I’ve decided on a purpose for this scene? Doesn’t yield the best results, for me. I need to go in with at least the bare bones of a plan, or the cast will improvise its way down a completely unnecessary direction.)

    • Look back on what I wrote… well, there’s Ishmael’s white whale in my living room. My first novel, written during the frenzy of my first go at Nanowrimo, was about 110,000 words of epistle-istic dribble, flitting to and fro, more fro than to, like a cat waking up in a barn full of mice and catnip. I was ever so glad my daughter published one copy of the novel (on the whole, really, considering she was 14 or 15 at the time, it was a fabulous gift from her) and it now sits on the shelf in my living room. I do not need to go back and read it. I know how bad it was written – now. If I am reincarnated, I will try a revision, but for now I am just moving on, trying to make the next one a little better. You are a brave person!

  2. I know the medium is different, but I think the example is still illuminating in its own way. I received a ‘Columbo’ season one DVD set for Christmas. Meanwhile, I gave my wife a ‘Mentalist’ DVD set. Watching the pilot episode of Columbo (premiering in 1968)- it takes thirty minutes of painfully mundane dialogue and action, including characters packing suitcases, driving, mixing drinks, making phone calls, lighting cigarettes, mixing more drinks, picking up laundry, etc…before the murder finally happens. Meanwhile, for the pilot of the Mentalist (a show that premiered in 2008), it begins with the mentalist and detectives arriving at a home in which a teenage girl has been murdered. After examining the body, the mentalist finds the grieving mother sitting in the kitchen, and begins a conversation with her. After a few question, he abruptly asks her if she thinks her husband might have committed the crime. Before she can answer, the husband appears, and the Mentalist turn to him and asks “Did you kill your daughter?” The mother watches her husband’s outraged response- “No, of course not!” The grief on the mother’s face appears to deepen, if possible, and she leaves the room. The mentalist and husband speak for a few moments, when suddenly the mother reappears with a gun, and shoots the husband dead…and all this before the opening credits! It’s not even the main story! Quite the contrast.

    • Great examples. Perhaps indicative of our (American) society in which we need more information faster? Going back to that era, the pacing of comedy was similar in that it took the entire episode to develop some of the jokes. Now, in our 140 character at a time, sound-bite driven world, we need to hear the laugh track every minute or so. Sadly, this has produced poor writing for the masses. The general populace now receives most of their “literature” from watching television – on their phone. I blame Sesame Street. E gads, would The Odd Couple survive the first cut today? Me thinks not.

  3. What’s interesting is that as the Columbo series moved on into season two and season three, more and more episodes began with the soon-to-be-murderer actively working out his/her diabolical plan; and the victim of the crime appearing only long enough to suffer the fatal wound, and all this happening while the opening credits are slowly scrolling through the appropriate names.
    I blame MTV most of all for the frenetic pacing we now see in much of our tv programming.
    I think the Odd Couple would struggle today, but, I’m sorry to say, for reasons other than pacing.

  4. hi,
    thanks a million for including my Dialogue, glorious dialogue – instalment 3, in your list of additional reading! Please, please, please note the irony of many of my pieces of ‘advice’ to fellow writers, or budding writers. If happy to go down a humorous route, do check out the first 2 instalments of the same mini series. If seeking serious and well documented advice, ahem, nope, I’m not your blogger!!!
    Good blog, congrats.

    • Thanks for stopping by. WordPress always suggests blog articles that may or may not be related to the subject of my post. If the title looks good, and the blog appears to be from a person rather than a commercial enterprise, I tend to list it. Afterward, when I have time, I read the links. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I enjoyed looking at your post and will return in a day or so to read more. (I am very busy at the moment and operating from my phone.) As for “serious and well documented advice” I am not one to talk.

      • Excellent! Loved your confession about not having read my post before recommending it!!! I wish I could still do so about other bloggers, but Zementa stopped working for me.
        In the meantime my blog is always open to new browsing and occasionally available for a chat over a cup of tea made of ether. Real tea is overrated anyway. So hopefully catch you on another occasion.
        Best regards,

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