Huh? What did you say?

December 29, 2009

Blah blah blah, blah blah blah...blah blah.  My MC and her love interest sound like Charlie Brown's teacher.  Nobody knows what the heck they are saying because it is soooo boring!

Give me a scene and I can create a written visual that will spin it into existence.  Give me dialogue, and I will bore the crap out of you.  I've written future chapters to my WIP already, where the MC and Love Interest (let's call him MCsH, for Main Character's Hottie) and their dialogue flows quite well.  But for some reason here in chapter 4 where they meet (yes I am very well aware that ch. 4 sounds pretty late to introduce MCsH but it's a 1st draft people) their dialogue is boring me to death or stalling completely.

After obsessing over it for days and coming up with nothing, my brain went into total shut down, writer's block freak-out mode.  (I think that is a technical diagnosis TSDWBFOM, kind of like BLS, aka Bag Lady Syndrome.)  And let me add, after having the children home for break and the hubby on vacation this week, it is not a good time to write thus adding to the frustration.

First I tried to diagnose my problem.  There are many pitfalls of dialogue according to Poe War, a writer's resource center.  Here are the pitfalls Poe listed:

Stilted Language - Dialog that does not sound like natural speech.
Filler -  Dialog that does not further the scene and does not deepen your understanding of the characters.  BINGO, We have a winner!
Exposition - Dialog that has the character explain the plot or repeat information for the benefit of the audience.
Naming - Having one character use another character’s name to establish identity. People almost never say other people’s names back to them, and if they do it is a character trait typical of a used car salesman.
Overuse of Modifiers - Too many dialog modifiers such as shouted, exclaimed, cried, whispered, stammered, opined, insinuated, hedged and a million others. Modifiers such as this can sometimes be useful, but are often annoying and used as a crutch for poorly designed dialogue.

Filler, aka blah blah blah, is the evil culprit.  Now why?  I am introducing my MC to MCsH for the first time and I realize, I have forgotten how to date.  I've been with my husband for 13, almost 14 years, married for 10 of those years and I don't know the first thing about dating.  Plus if I dated now it wouldn't have the juvenile element it did 20 10 years ago when I was a teenager.

I need an exercise, not "to exercise", my trainer kicked my butt yesterday.  I need a dialogue building exercise, so searched the net.  I found over seventeen  decent advice websites and suggestions but none of them really got me past my hump.  Most suggestions had me writing whole new scenes with lots of different types of characters doing random things.  All great but again, nothing that really helped me with my MC and MCsH.

So...I emailed my super delicious critique buddy, Diana over at Writing Roller Coasters with my "filler" dialogue dilemma and she fixed me right up.

Here is what Diana prescribed:
These should be a few sentences long, and not time consuming at all (if you're stuck try the next one. The point is to become completely comfortable "speaking" as your mc). Try writing for the female protag in a completely unrelated setting: what would she say if she went to the mall and someone asked her for a piece of gum? Try another with her waiting for a ride in front of a movie theater and a hot guy walks up and makes small talk, and then try something completely impossible, like if her house caught fire or if zombies came out of the ground. Seriously, you will get to know her better if you know what she'd say, and then do the male protagonist. Finally put them together for a few sentences that don't relate to your story. Maybe they're on a reality show or they bump into each other at the vet, just see what they would say. Remember, two or three sentences, and if you get stuck come up with a different setting. And lastly, by the end of the book you'll have an excellent handle on their dialog and you can always go back and fix it :)

I tried it last night and it worked!  I got past this super built up dialogue anxiety and am able to start creating dialogue between my  MC and MCsH.  There are three parts to Diana's advice that really nailed it for me.
  1. Use your MC's voice. (Every other piece of advice had me creating new random characters.)
  2. Two or three sentences and that is it.  (It's a quick exercise that I don't have to build a scene for and can move through quickly.)
  3. Write dialogue completely unrelated to your story.  (It takes the pressure off tremendously and who cares what they talk about as long as they are talking.)
Thanks Di, you really helped me past that one.  I'm finished with chapter 4 and up to 18K.  The first three chapters I have already axed but I will let my super smooth critique buddy confirm that (she might say consolidate into one chapter *fingers crossed*)  Any way, I'm taking the week off from actually writing in my WIP due to human distractions, aka my family, who is home for 24 hours a day for the rest of the week.  I'll have my fortress of solitude back next week, where I can get back to work.  Any dialogue issues for you?

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  1. AWWWWWWW!!!! Gwoeeeee!!! You are the awesomest, sweetest ever, I'm so honored :) *sniff* And I'm really glad my suggestions helped. That idea started after I got stuck once and wrote out a few sentences of my mc during a random earthquake, I was so frustrated with her... just knowing what she'd say to her friends in that situation helped me understand what she would sound like in other "real" (to the book, anyway) situations too.

    I'm so excited to start reading this new wip of yours I can't even tell you :) And guess what? I just realized I have to slice out two POVs that I thought were important, so I've got my work cut out for me too lol! Not to mention a potential chapter that may or may not be cut due to potential nothing-central-to-the-plot. Ayyy, I like revising so much better than the first draft.

  2. YES! I love writing dialog but it can come out so canned. On parts of my WIP if I was the reader, I'd put the book DOWN. So this advice comes in the nick of time. And I understand about your fortress of solitude. lol

    Thanks for sharing, I learn so much from you guys.

  3. Dialogue is not my problem. My crit buddies tend to love my dialogue. It's everything else that I have problems with. Perhaps we should co-write :D

  4. What great advice!!! I never thought to take my MCs out of the setting that they are in and put them in different situations. I stare at the screen and think, think, think about how he/she would say something. I'll have to try this. I may have to start sending messages to your critique partner when I'm stumped! My main problem is all of the above that you mentioned! I sometimes think my dialog sounds too much like everyday speech, if that makes sense. I'm still not sure if it is okay to "write how they would talk"- improper grammar and all.
    I learned a ton from this post. Thanks!

  5. I think I'm out opposite. My dialogue usually comes along really naturally. Description however, is my nemesis.

    Congratulations on breaking past this block!!

  6. I'm glad Dianna was able to help you out. She is so super :o)

    As for the dialogue issue, no I don't have much problem in that area. I have a harder time painting a scene and connecting the dots. I feel like sometimes I have too much dialogue and people must be thinking "ok ok, when are they going to DO something already." lol.

  7. Dialogue isn't much of an issue for me but it can become a pesky issuet at times. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips!

  8. I'm working on a dialogue issue right now. Apparently, everyone I write sounds like me. That's not so good, since some are not of my gender, twice my age, and/or Scottish. I need to think on how to fix that.

  9. Diana – Everybody needs a buddy. I just hope they don’t think they can steal you from me.

    Catherine – Canned Dialogue tastes the same as canned Spam. Yeah, not so good.

    Tina – I’ll set the scene you talk we would be perfect together.

    Kelly – I definitely think it is ok to “write how they talk” broken sentences and all. Majority of my misspellings and fragment sentences are in my dialogue.

    Amalia – Lucky girl. Maybe we should all pair up for one big super book. Dialogue and Descriptors unite!

    Void – I think that to, especially when I dialogue so I get all nervous and rush it.

    V.S. – Later in the book it will flow for me, it’s just this beginning getting to know each other part that stinks. Like Diana said, I can always go back and beef it up later.

    Dominique – LOL, you do have issues. Throw in opposite race and you’re totally screwed. jk


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