Category Archives: Dialogue

It’s Time to Write Some On-the-Nose Dialogue

It’s Day 8 of JulNoWriMo, and I’m writing some terrible dialogue.  It’s clunky.  It’s stilted.  It’s on-the-nose in that way that every writing teacher on the planet tells you dialogue shouldn’t be.

I’m declaring this to be a good thing.

Why?

We’ve all had the experience of having a conversation with someone who isn’t being as nice as they could be.  Someone who doesn’t have a problem looking you in the eye and saying something kind of condescending.  Or rude.  Or just downright idiotic.

And we’ve all had the experience of not knowing how to reply.  So we bite our tongues, or stutter an “excuse me”, or just shake our heads and change the topic.

Then, a week later, we’re in the shower rehashing that conversation and voila, it shows up–the perfect retort.  “That’s what I should have said!” we explain to our uncaring shampoo bottle.

Because that annoying conversation is still bothering us, and deep in our heads, some part of our brain was still trying to come up with a response.

The bad news is that I don’t have any advice for being wittier at parties.

The good news is that you can use your brain’s tendency to get stuck on the dumb stuff you said a week ago to be a better writer.

First, you have to actually write the crappy dialogue.  Let it be horrible.  Let your characters make fools of themselves.  Let them spill their guts all over the page of your first draft.

Second, each night before you go to bed at night, pick a horrible section and read it before you go to sleep.  Allow the awfulness of this passage to bother you.  Not that you wrote it, but that your characters spoke it.  Be bothered by the fact that one of your beloved characters didn’t get the last word.  Imagine how embarrassed your hero that he sounded like a total dorkhead.

Then sleep on it.

Repeat until you find yourself staring off into the distance at the grocery store checkout line, mumbling that perfect line of dialogue over and over again so you won’t forget it by the time the cashier hands over your receipt.

I can’t tell you how soon you’ll start having those, “That’s what she should have said!” moments.  I’m starting to come up with better lines for the scenes I wrote back on Days 1 and 2.  That’s about right…that’s how long it takes me to come up with the perfect retort in real life too.  But my subconscious might be a lot slower than yours.

Here’s the passage from my WIP that I’ll be chewing over tonight:

“I don’t want my record expunged,” Soji said.  “I want a fair trial and I want to choose my own lawyer.”

Ghost cocked her head.  “You liked being court-martialed so much, you want to do it again?”

“I didn’t hide those drugs in the convoy.  Someone else did.  And they got away with it.”

“Revenge,” Shadow said softly.

Soji shook his head.  “Justice.”

“You’re hired,” Ghost said.

“Incidentally,” Shadow added, “when you accessed the file on your new bounty, your implant received an upgrade that will keep us informed of your location at all times.”

He took out neural inducer and tossed it to the floor in front of Soji.

Soji picked up the tiny patch—a sleeper.  He’d be unconscious for fifteen minutes, during which time they would be free to do who-knew-what to him.  I already hate this job.

“What if I need to contact you before I get to the rendezvous?”

“That would be unfortunate.”

Join in the fun–pick a run of dialogue from your work-in-progress that you’d like to improve and try this technique. 

If you want to save me from being the only person sharing first-draft awfulness with the world and post a snippet here, you’ll earn my undying gratitude and a virtual high-five for your bravery.