streamlining dialog

One thing I never take for granted: the threading of a dialog into the scene. Maybe some authors do this without thinking and do it flawlessly, but that is not the case for me. When I’m reading, badly threaded dialog will stop me in my tracks. You’re wondering what I mean by this.

Reading process
Reading process (Photo credit: giulia.forsythe)

In part, it’s the old he said/she said dilemma. How to keep characters distinct when they are in the middle of a game of cards or a rip-roaring argument or a business meeting — without drawing undue attention to the mechanics.

The more characters you’ve got, the harder the juggling act.

I’m going to put together a little dialog here, and set it up as if it were from a script (because one of the nice things about scripts is that you don’t have to worry about this stuff). Then next post I’m going to rewrite it as a novel scene in the most clumsy, awful way possible. After the taste of that is out of my mouth, I’ll start again and look at all the possibilities I can think of to vary rhythm, keep the dialog flowing, and draw character. C’e qui:

Mother

(taps the table top)

We talked about this, last night. Right here at the table.

Son

(studying himself in the mirror, with some pleasure)

You talked about it.

Father

By your silence you were agreeing implicitly that the clothes you wear to school are –

Son

(turning to face parents)

-Didn’t you teach me always to get it in writing, Dad? Implicit doesn’t cut it. Unless you drew up one of your iron clad contracts and I signed it while hypnotized, I’m wearing what I’m wearing.

Mother

(distressed)

That t-shirt is unacceptable.

Father

It’s inappropriate.

Son

(very relaxed)

So’s the ketchup stain on your tie, Dad.

Mother

(steps in front of the kid, hissing)

It’s obscene.

Son

(looking down at himself and reading the t-shirt upside down)

Obscene? Lick Bush? Whatever do you mean? You know that I’ve joined the progressive democracy club at school, and I’m campaigning. You wanted me to get involved.

Father

You know what your mother means.

Son

I’m afraid you’ll have to explain it to me if you want me to change. Is there some dark double entendre you’re seeing? Have you raised this with your psychiatrist, how you read sexual acts into even the most mundane language?

Mother

(busily moving dishes around on the table)

You know the euphemism perfectly well. Lick is a reference to – to -”

Son

(emptying his cup)

Let me know when you come up with that word, would you mom? In the meantime I’ve got to get to school.

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One Reply to “streamlining dialog”

  1. This is very enlightening. Is this what you do for the first draft, then fill in the “he saids,” etc. for making it into appropriate dialog?

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