Tuesday, August 21, 2012

All Dialogue All the Time

I was writing to a friend of mine who is starting to re-think her novel, so I suggested 10-15 early pages of nothing but dialogue.   Only dialogue.  No narrative tags, no scene-despcription.  Just dialogue.

There's something wonderful, almost sorcerous, about having characters talk to each other w/out an author butting in.  They reveal themselves in ways the writer never imagined.  If you think of authors as puppet-masters, dialogue can sometimes cut the strings and the, in a sense, hostages go off on their own.

Here's an example I remember from my days at VT. It's not word-for-word but it's sure the spirit of the thing:

Version #1 --  Monica felt Owen was way too brave for his own good.   Recklessly brave.  Who knew what could happen to two kids on their own.

Version #2 --

M:  My mother says you're reckless.
O:  I'm not, either.  I'm just not scared of everything.
M:  I'm not scared of everything.
O:  You're scared of dust.  You said so.
M:  Dust storms.  That's different.
O:  There aren't any dust storms where we're going.
M:  Which is where exactly?
O:  Away from here, that's for sure.
M:  On a bus?  Anything can happen on a bus.
O:  Not to two people together.  We'll look out for each other.

We were in a workshop, okay?  People had taken 10-15 minutes to write out dialogue only, using a flat statement or two from their workshop pieces.

This little transformation got a lot of heat.  Version #1 was really more like a note-to-oneself, a nudge to write more.  #2 was more.  It had vitality and threat and a wonderful mini-exchange in the dust/dust storm lines.  The young woman who wrote it was thrilled and surprised.  She asked "Where did that come from?"

From you, kidddo.  Once you got out of the way.



  1. I like that when I'm stuck on a scene and all frustrated and ready to take up drinking, that you come along with an exercise that is so simple that I'm like, "Oh! I can do that." Thanks!

  2. And there is me, Ron, who sometimes only writes dialog - on and on. Ah, the balance.