Mushy Dialogue Sucks

There. I said it.

Mushy dialogue sucks. It’s nothing space in your story and sometimes it’s nothing space in your life. You know what I’m talking about, right? You meet some cool human at a coffee house and talk to them and it goes like this:

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“How’s it shaking?”

“It’s shaking well, thank you.”

“Yeah. Weather is nice, right?”

“It’s quite sunny.”

“Cool.”

“Yes, it’s lovely.”

Random bad dialogue that I just made up

One of my writers in the Writing Barn class that I’m teaching for the next six months, directed me to a blog post about the Five Biggest Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them and one of those mistakes according to James Scott Bell is marshmallow dialogue.

Bell believes that dialogue is one of the best ways to make a story better or make it absolute trash. He advocates fast-paced dialogue full of tension. Blah dialogue he says is ‘puffy,’ and ‘overly sweet,’ and everyone sounds the same no matter who is speaking.

Bell kindly gives hints about how to make characters sound different from one another.

Those include:

  • Making documents written solely in one character’s voice.
  • Keep working on it until every character sounds different and you can distinguish them at a glance (I added that)
  • Make sure there is tension going on. What do people want? Why are they talking? Do they want the same thing?
  • Make your dialogue simpler. Get rid of extra words. You can cut and copy dialogue into another document and then hack away at it.

He uses the following example of compressed dialogue.

“Mary, are you angry with me?” John asked.

“You’re damn straight I’m mad at you,” Mary said.

“But why? You’ve got absolutely no reason to be!”

“Oh but I do, I do. And you can see it in my face, can’t you?”

The alternative:

“You angry with me?” John asked.

“Damn straight,” Mary said.

“You got no reason to be!”

Mary felt her hands curling into fists.

Bell’s example

I’m annoying and I send my apologies to Mr. Bell, but that example is wonderful at compressing dialogue, but those people? They still sound the same to me. In the first example, they both sound like middle class people who are having a hard time expressing their feelings. In the second example, they sound like people who are expressing their feelings in exactly the same way and are probably are still the same social/economic/education background.

Look at what happens if you keep one character’s original lines and one character’s new lines.

“Mary, are you angry with me?” John asked.
“Damn straight,” Mary said.
“But why? You’ve got absolutely no reason to be!”
Mary’s hands curled into fists.

Or….

“You angry with me?” John asked.

“You’re damn straight I’m mad at you,” Mary said.

“But why? You have absolutely no reason to be?”


Mary’s hands curled into fists.

Revision

I’d argue that’s even better. For more about how language and dialogue changes with the speakers, check out our Dogs are Smarter than People podcast from last year. And good luck with your dialogue!

Links that go with the podcast (the important words are here and here.




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WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

ART.

I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here. 

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TIME STOPPERS!

You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

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MOE BERG 

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

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FLYING AND ENHANCED

Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them here or anywhere.

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Wednesday Writing Hints – Get Naked?

Call it what you will – nude, buff, starkers, exposed, unclothed, au naturel, in the altogether, buck naked.

I prefer to say, “in the bare scud.”

Why am I writing about this? Well, apparently some classic authors had a tendency to get naked in order to write.

CREATIVITY IN THE BARE SCUD?

In a 2012 article in the Guardian, Robert McCrum writes of singers who access creativity by being naked and talks of all the different ways us writers do the nasty.

“Do the nasty” means write, just in case you were thinking something else.

Writing naked is actually something a bunch of authors have allegedly done before.

D. H. Lawrence climbed up trees naked all the time because why not?

James Whitcomb Riley would write naked because you can’t go to a bar naked, therefore being nude increased his productivity.

This probably should be a rule about the internet too. Because we’d all be way more productive if we could just be like, “I SHALL TAKE OFF MY CLOTHES AND THEREFORE NOT BE ABLE TO GO ON THE INTERWEBS.”

Agatha Christie would hang out in her bathtub to think up writing ideas. That counts.

An old Galley Cat post by Maryann Yin states that, “Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, James Whitcomb Riley, Edmond Rostand, Benjamin Franklin, and Agatha Christie” all wrote naked. That’s a whole lot of naked writers.

Being naked isn’t an easy thing for many of us. It’s vulnerable and fragile. It’s our body’s raw state, natural state and yet…

It feels a little weird in the American society, right? But if we think about it a little more deeply, it becomes a cool metaphor.

To write naked might mean to write clearly, cleanly so you can see every word, line, paragraph and theme.

To write naked might mean to write truth, to expose your self and your society to the eyes of your readers.

So, you can totally write naked with your clothes on. You don’t have to do a Victor Hugo. Just expose yourself to your readers (in a legal non-creepy way) by exposing the inner truths and passions of your characters and theme.

The best stories are the stories were the authors are passionate about saying something, communicating something. And yes, that really requires us to be a bit emotionally naked.

WRITING NEWS

ENHANCED, the follow-up to FLYING is here! And the books are out of this world. Please buy them and support a writer.

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The last TIME STOPPERS BOOK is out and I love it. You should buy it because it’s empowering and about friendship and bias and magic. Plus, dragons and elves.

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How to Get Signed Copies: 

If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For signed copies – email barharbor@shermans.com for Sherman’s or email info@briarpatchbooks.comand let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!

Art Stuff

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