This is the second step in my dialogue series, How To Write Fabulous Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps.
Step 2: Layering
Last week in Step 1: Talking Heads, I wrote a draft and asked you to add your own version in the comments to demonstrate what happens when you leave details to chance and don’t fix your talking heads. Thank you to the brave souls who were willing to share. Your examples are great. Please take a look at how different each scene is. Genders, settings and even income-levels have changed.
Please use the list below to evaluate your version. My example is below.
Before I rewrite:
- I read it aloud.
- I make sure I skip the polite stuff. Only your mother cares about your manners. I want to drop you in the middle of a conversation. No pleasantries required, unless your character is hedging.
- I make sure I know where I am and who is speaking.
- I check that I have used contractions and have varied, even incomplete, sentences. If your character is a well-spoken, posh university
professor, he or she will speak in full sentences without contractions. The rest us, well, we don’t speak as well. We leave out words, use contractions. Your dialogue must sound real. Most of the time our speakers and their sentences are fragmented, distracted, interrupted and unsure.
- I don’t use dialogue tags and if I have used them, I cover them. I want to see if the sentences look different, because that means they will sound like two different characters. The words must fit the age, profession and background of the speaker.
- I make sure there is conflict, confrontation or compromise. We shy away from conflict in real life; in fiction we don’t have to.
- I fix any talking heads by adding setting, description, and body language.
- I format the dialogue so that it looks like dialogue. I’ll be discussing formatting and punctuation next week.
Now here’s my example:
His wife fusses around the dressing room. Stacks of clothes lined up on the bed. She packs like she lives. Neatly. Not a wrinkle in sight. Ironed, starched, folded. It looks more like origami than clothing.“You’re not serious, are you?”“Actually, I am.” She turns back to the bed, folding, patting, straightening. Her feet sunk deep into the carpet.“I don’t believe you.” He leans against the doorjamb. His tone, carefully crafted carelessness.“You should.” She smiles as she scurries past him.“Why?” he demands, arms crossed as he blocks her path to the bed.“Because, this time it’s real.” She slips under his arm clutching another load. Tiny, fast, determined.“But you promised.” He is whining now.“No, we promised. You didn’t keep the promise.” She has her back to him. She shakes another sweater into submission and adds it to the pile.“Screw you.”“No darling, not anymore. You’ve lost that privilege.”
She laughs, but it is hollow.“How did you find out?”“Pass the bag, won’t you?” She points to the Luis Vuitton on the top shelf.“No, I won’t.” He folds his arms. The whine is back in his voice.“Fine, I’ll get it.” She darts past and grabs the bag.“I asked you a question.” He blocks her route to the bed again.“Does it really matter, how I found out?” She sighs and starts transferring the piles to the bag. Methodical. Shoes, pants, coat, sweaters. She has a system for everything.“I thought we had a deal.” He holds her arm.“I thought we had a marriage.” She pulls her arm away and slips her feet into her shoes.“Let’s talk about this.”“We just did.” She walks out the door without looking back. The Luis Vuitton clacking on its tiny wheels.
I hope this exercise and the rewriting list will help you. Don’t over-think it and have fun. In the following weeks I‘ll be discussing formatting, adverbs, and punctuation in dialogue in more detail.
Look out for Step 3 Keeping Up Appearances next week when I’ll write about punctuation and formatting.