I am spending an inordinate amount of time writing crap today for my first novel Phoenix Rock. I met the daily word count goal for National Novel Writing Month. That month is now in progress, so if you stick around long enough, I can bore you senseless with my writer’s angst and discussion of the “process” ad nauseum. On the other hand, it might be a nice break from my feminist chest-thumping (ow, ow) and the exploitation of my many maternal and human flaws.
There are some things that I write well. Dialogue is not one of them. I spend a lot of time trying to remember punctuation rules and a lot less time determining if the dialogue I just wrote actually has any bearing on the story. Here’s a gem I just regurgitated:
“Hey Meg – can you get me a refill?” A deep, gravelly voice called back to her through the server’s window. Lily must have run to the back, the coffee pot emptied in her absence.
“Sure John, I’ll get another pot started – leaded, right?” Meg leaned forward to see John’s tired, gray face topped off with the grungy John Deere hat.
“What other kind is there?” He shuffled back to the table, chuckling at his own joke.
Believe me when I tell you, this conversation has no relevance to the story I’m writing, except to establish that the characters are in a restaurant, which I did, by starting the paragraph with “In the restaurant”. I’m a fan of spare writing and we all know that normal everyday dialogue runs more like this:
“Hey, uh Meg – can you maybe get me a refill, if you got a moment, darling?” A deep, gravelly voice called back to her through the server’s window. Lily must have run to the back, the coffee pot emptied in her absence.
“Um, sure John, I’ll get like another pot started, okay – leaded, right?” Meg leaned forward to see John’s tired, gray face topped off with the grungy John Deere hat.
“Uh-huh. What other kind is there?” He shuffled back to the table, chuckling at his own joke.
Again, it doesn’t add to the story and is awful to read. Like, you know what I mean? So this is the challenge before me right now. How do I make spoken words count, have added value and be engaging for the reader? I know the story I’m telling – I just don’t know how to make dialogue purposeful.
Like anything else, when I am in need of knowledge, I start digging for resources. I listened to this podcast today – useful for grammar reminders while writing dialogue. There were some good tips at Writer’s Digest by Scott Francis and James Scott Bell to think about. I’m also checking in with some bloggers who post their fiction, like Pete Armetta, Nett Robbens (she writes steamy stuff, but I just read for the dialogue, really), and there are some great reminders from Rebecca at WriteRight. I am also getting a book to hone my skills when offline: Writing Great Fiction – Dialogue by Gloria Kempton, while resisting emphatically, the “also recommended” Writing Fiction for Dummies. Screw you, Amazon.
For now, John, Meg and the whole gang at Phoenix Rock will have to keep their traps shut. I’m trying to write, dammit.