Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing tip 11/100

Let's jump to dialogue today. There are lots of things we could discuss: tags, pacing, etc. But for now, we'll start with something I like to call ping-ponging. In real life, conversations sound something like this.

""What time is dinner?"
"Six thirty. Did you get the pork chops?"
"No. I forgot. Can we just have meat loaf?"
"I don't have any hamburger."

There is nothing wrong with this conversation, other than being a little boring. But it doesn't pop. Each line is a direct response to the one before it. There's no conflict. No zing. Instead, try seeing if you can carry the conversation forward with having each line not be such a direct answer. Here's an example with the same conversation.

"What time is dinner?"
"Did you get the pork chops?"
"I knew I forgot something. How does meat loaf sound?"
"How does Wong Boy's Chinese sound? I don't have anything in the house--which happens to be why I asked you, not once, but twice, to pick up pork chops on the way home."

It's still a pretty boring conversation. And we need some action. Some response. A tag or two. But add those, and we could have a nice little scene here.

"What time is dinner?" Steve asked the minute he walked through the door.
Dana noticed his empty hands and sighed. "Did you get the pork chops?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
"I knew I forgot something. How does meat loaf sound?"
Dana wanted to scream. Couldn't he just once do what he promised? It was like being married to a three year old. "How does Wong Boy's Chinese sound? I don't have anything in the house--which happens to be why I asked you, not once, but twice, to pick up pork chops on the way home."

See how these moves things along so much better? Look at a couple of conversations you've written recently and check to see how much of you can improve them with a little ping ponging.

Here's an example from my upcoming Making the Team.

Carter pulled off his rat head. His face was sweaty and his bright red hair was matted to his scalp from the rubber of the mask. He pulled the plastic fangs out of his mouth. “I like the owl. It makes the scene more creepy.”

“It makes the scene more lame,” Nick said. He turned to Angelo. “Tell him he sounded like a kid trying to hoot.”

“Maybe we could edit in a real owl,” Angelo suggested. He flipped open his monster notebook and scribbled a reminder to himself.

Carter tugged at the thick gray mittens the boys had changed into rat paws. “Are you sure we have to do the whole giant rat thing? A werewolf or a killer lizard would be so much cooler.”

“And done about a thousand times.” Nick snorted. “Dude, we’ve been over this. It’s a tribute to The Princess Bride.”


“An homage,” Angelo added—never afraid to use big words. “To the Rodents of Unusual Size from the fire swamp.”

1 comment:

David Glenn said...

Very good advice. Thanks for the tip.