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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Battle of Words

Some people write action scenes, and I've tried to do justice to a few of my own. Some people write love scenes, and I've posted at other times on my own feelings toward those. Most intriguing to me, though, is the battle of words. It's where characters in opposition on something exchange words, argue, try to finesse each other. These are hard to write. The action must be balanced, with each side getting its turn to have the upper hand. The dialog must seem as natural as it can, even though characters in books don't really talk like real people in conversation. Books would be much longer if they did because a lot of real conversation is filler.

"Hiya, Sally. How's it going?"

"Hey, Joe. Not too shabby. Did you watch the game last night?'

"Yeah, awesome. Betcha we get to the playoffs after all."

"No way! You say that every year."

"Say, listen, I need to ask you about those status reports that are due tomorrow..."

The first four lines would be cut by an editor from a manuscript, presuming that the question about the reports is the real meat of the conversation. Even though people in real life introduce serious topics with polite greetings and chitchat, that has no place in fiction. Usually. Those lines might be made meaningful if there's action going on with them, perhaps hints about how these two people really feel about each other, or some other tension coming through.

"Hiya, Sally. How's it going?" Joe stole a glance over his shoulder before she could look up just to make sure the boss's snitch had not caught up yet.

"Hey, Joe. Not too shabby." Sally shuffled papers on her desk. "Did you catch the game last night?"

Still no sign of the informer, but Joe knew he could not raise Sally's suspicions. "Yeah, awesome. Betcha we get to the playoffs after all."

"No way!" Sally looked up with a smug smile. "You say that every year."

He normally would have argued but time was limited. He had to get the reports from her and hand them off to his reporter friend waiting in the lobby before anyone saw him with them. "Say, listen..."

In a way, this is sort of a Gotcha. You want your conversation to be natural but nobody really wants to read natural. Sometimes you can put the clutter in if it's accompanied by real information, but mostly, you throw out what you don't need.

And that might be the rule then: Everything in the manuscript should play a part in moving the story forward.

Boy, do I ever feel pretentious giving writing lessons!

1 comment:

  1. This is excellent advice, especially for new writers. Conversations take place with actions, whether that action is slight yet obvious, such as eye movement or body language, or tone of voice. Or the action might come in an internal thought form characters in conversation. The more action involved in a dialogue scene. the more the hints relayed to the reader to the over-all plot. Keep on with "giving writing lessons." They help more than you know!