August 21, 2011

Dialogue (What's it's NOT supposed to be.)

One look at these pictures and the dialogue that's happening begins to fill in. For readers, the reverse is true. The dialogue helps create the pictures as part of the reader experience.

<Imagine a man and a woman alone in a kitchen.>
"It's late. Where have you been?"
"At the office. Sorry I didn't call. What's for dinner?"
"Spaghetti. Sorry it's cold. You didn't call so I didn't know when to expect you, other than hours ago."
"I said I'm sorry, alright?"
"Sure. You're always sorry. Your plate's in the microwave."

See how that works? It's kind of cool actually, and writers know this is the bare bones to which sensory detail, setting, and context must be added or you end up with the white background like the pictures above that could be anywhere. Dialogue serves the writer and the reader equally, and works very hard, but sometimes beginning writers ask too much of the dialogue. These common mistakes are brief excerpts from my favorite craft book HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL, 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.

  1. Asseverated the Man (When the author thinks he's too good for the word "said")
  2. Said the Fascinating Man (Where the author tells you what you think of his dialogue)
  3. Said the Man Who Had Just Returned from Three Months on an Arctic Expedition (Where the author misplaces his exposition)
  4. "@#$% You!" He Said Profanely (Where the author uses adverbs to no purpose)
  5. Sock Puppetry (When all characters speak in the voice of the surrounding prose)
  6. The Convention of the Invisible Men (Where the author fails to identify his speakers)
  7. The Court Reporter (In which every single last solitary word of conversation is included)
  8. Don't Mind Us (When the author forgets that other characters are present)
  9. Doublespeak (When the author inadvertently makes characters seem dishonest)
  10. "Hello! I Am the Mommy!" (Where characters announce things they wouldn't)
  11. "But, Captain...!" (Where characters tell each other things they both already know)
  12. "And That's When the Rash Returned..." (When characters inappropriately share intimate information)
  13. El Foreigner (Where nonnative English speakers are rendered poorly) 
 Those are just the subheadings, and I took the liberty of editing #4 & #12 for the blog, just FYI. The explanations as to why and how on each item, especially #13,11,10, and 1 are fantastic. You'll need a little rhino hide and probably won't see this book for sale at the ACFW conference next month, but I highly recommend this book to any aspiring writer. If you can handle the cheeky-ness. ;-)

Go Look Inside "How NOT to Write a Novel" at Amazon

In author news... I went way out of my comfort zone this weekend and tried to learn East Coast Swing (yes, the dancing). Turns out, as I've suspected for many, many years, since sixth grade to be exact, dancing is not a talent or gift I possess. Thankfully no one was injured, though I'm very sore! I did meet a lot of very nice people and had a good time with my friends, with the added benefit of not being in front of a monitor for a while. We're in record breaking heat here in Houston... giving me new appreciation for the creature comforts of air conditioning and knowing I'm not going to hell, thanks to Jesus. The plot of the new novel is taking shape, and I'm feeling that itch to get back in the right hemisphere of my brain and do some creating. I do love editing, polishing, and continuing to work toward publication with CHASING THE LION but I'm also ready to do some writing again, with a fresh story and new characters.

Have some intentional dialogue this week, with the creator God, your friends and family, and a stranger who looks like they need a word of encouragement. So not just any words that would fit the list up there, but words that serve the Lord and actually SAY something. We're not islands, and sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone. I know it's scary, but it feels pretty great afterward.  =)

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer." Psalm 19:14 (NKJV)


Jackie said...

Thanks for sharing this.
I have a confession, my husband is a better dancer than I am. On vacation this summer he watched others dance while we were also on the dance floor. He said, "I've been watching that couple, and I want to try something." With that he tried to spin me out and back in. I've got two left feet and was definitely out of my comfort zone.

Nancy Kimball said...

If it makes you feel any better Jackie, my problem has more to do with my head than my feet, LOL. Overcoming the sheer terror of humiliating myself on the dance floor was the easy part. I'm terrible at letting the man lead. Anticipating the next move ruins everything and I know it and yet, I can't stop. So when I'm wrong, what a train wreck. Hmmmm... metaphor there for following God I'm sure :p
When in doubt, break out in the Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bellaire, hehe