Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chocolate Voodoo Doll

I have been editing the dialogue in my novel, and I was thinking about something I read in James N. Frey's book (mentioned several times in this blog, and now again) about what's important in writing good dialogue.

First off, good dialogue is *not* conversation. There are no "throwaway" lines in dialogue. Every line should advance the plot, reveal character, or heighten conflict.

He says good dialogue is always:
* in conflict
* indirect
* clever
* colorful
Here's something colorful. Skittles. Mmm.

I don't think colorful necessarily means "colorful language" in the cursing sense of the term. I think he means it should create images in the reader's mind, reveal the way the character thinks, and make an impact.

By indirect, Frye explained, if one character asks a question, the reply shouldn't answer it directly. The feeling will be crisper if the answer is oblique or if the answer comes several lines later. This can intensify conflict between characters, as well.

His points are that dialogue needs to reveal conflict, reveal character, and to provide immediacy--meaning it speeds up the action of the story, makes it seem like it's happening *now* and not just being told about. Funny, telling through dialogue ends up being one of the best ways to "show not tell."

Frey suggests that in the editing phase, we should go back and reexamine ALL dialogue and determine where it could be fresher, more unexpected, create greater tension, and throw a greater impact. Sigh. It's really hard to do!

I have a favorite TV show, Leverage, and I love it because the dialogue rocks. Everything just strikes me as clever, and it's never what I'm expecting. I'm sure the writers are either geniuses or else they labor for hours and days and weeks coming up with the perfect snappy (or snarky) response.

The thing about all this "unexpectedness" requirement in dialogue is that it also seems to extend to all aspects of writing--to the character development, to the plot twists, to the name assignments of characters, to the titles.

For instance, Cookie Monster. The name--it's a juxtaposition of ideas. And it's a beloved character who has endured over 30 years in children's and adults' minds.

I think we're kind of like the people the Apostle Paul describes (and kinda scorns) of Mars Hill, always looking about to see something new. It's human nature. We like what surprises us, what's different.

Now, candy-wise, here's something different. Lobster lollipops. I think I've eaten them before. Cherry flavor? Does that ring a bell? It's dinner time. I'd like one right now, to be honest.

Or this chocolate voodoo doll. What could be more appealing than a surprise like this?

I just love surprises--in candy and in good writing.


  1. I like reading your posts. They make writing sound fun.---And chocolate voodoo dolls! I wish I had invented that, lol!

  2. Thanks, Sherral. Writing generally IS fun. Even when it's kind of painful (I heard it compared to opening a vein once.) And YEAH, about the voodoo dolls? I can totally think of a few politicians I'd model into chocolate. :)


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