WFMAD Day 12 – Let’s talk about it

August is a wistful month for many reasons, including the fact that it is when the SCBWI Annual Conference is held in Los Angeles. Le sigh. I really need to go back soon. Until I can, I will have to content myself with reading the official blog about the conference.

That’s enough wistfulness. I woke up with the sun and harvested a bunch of green beans that will soon be on their way to the freezer. I planted 10 plants, but that’s not nearly enough, given that green beans are a staple here. Next year I think I’ll plant 30. The tomatoes are starting to ripen and my popcorn plants have tasseled.

Has anyone ever frozen kale?

From the garden to the writer’s desk. We’ve been doing a lot of character development this month, so it’s time to mix things up. Are you listening? Good, because today is all about dialog.

Dialog should carry one of the two burdens of Story: a) move the plot forward, or B) add to our understanding of character.

Beware the temptation to load dialog down with backstory blathering, as in this Draft 1 Example:

Narrator: "You know, it’s funny you should say that, Drake. Remember the time when we were kids and our house burned down because Cousin Ichabod tried to repair the stove with a blowtorch and how he forgot to turn off the gas and remember how after they let him out of the hospital he got on a bus to Las Vegas and was never heard from again? Well, sure as heck, he came home today – thirty years to the day after destroying our house and family."
Drake: "Do you think he knows that Ma and Pa have been scheming to kill him every day since and they put all the insurance money into the finest weaponry and land to hide the body?"

Yeah, I know. Made of suckitude.

But we all write like this, when no one is watching. I think ::lowers voice to whisper:: I think it might be part of the process. Don’t tell the people who give standardized tests. They enjoy the delusion that first draft writing is always polished prose. (Silly bureaucrats!)

I have a cure!

Prepare yourself!!!  Get down on one knee and bow your head.

::raises staff of oak and ash:: I, Madwoman of the Forest, do hereby grant thee the First Draft Exemption For Writing Bad and Pointless Dialog. 
::bonks assembled writers on head with staff::

OK, get up now. Don’t you feel better?

I find that I NEED to write banal and blathering dialog in a first draft because it help me understand the characters and their backstories. The trick is to have the courage to admit how bad it is when it comes time to revise. And cut out everything that is useless.

Example, Draft 2:
Narrator: "Ichabod’s back."
Drake: "I know. Ma has the cannon ready. I’m supposed to dig a hole."
Narrator: "Already did it."
Drake: "Then I get to cover him up."
Narrator: "Fair enough. But don’t tell Pa."

(Yes, I deliberately created a question with that last line. It’s supposed to move the story forward.)


Today’s advice: Mystery author Robert B. Parker said, "Say a lot in a little. Put the most meaning in the fewest words."


Today’s prompt: Today you eavesdrop. Sit next to people who do not know you are listening and write down as much as you can overhear. Stop before the police are called. Read over what you’ve written, paying special attention to how often they spoke in fragments and how quickly information was conveyed. How does the way they speak differ from the way your characters speak?

Extra Bonus Points: Rework some of your dialog from your WIP. Be merciless – what can you throw away?


10 Replies to “WFMAD Day 12 – Let’s talk about it”

  1. SCBWI Summer Conference

    I just returned from the conference. You really DO need to get back there. You would have been mobbed by admirers. Seriously. Most of them agents and editors. I don’t think there was a single breakout session where Wintergirls wasn’t praised. Sadly, I haven’t read it yet (it’s in my to-be-read queue!) but I loved Speak. So, shall we look for you at next year’s conference??? 🙂

  2. Hmm, I’ve never frozen kale, but a friend of mine dries it and uses it like tortilla chips. I haven’t tried it myself, but she says it’s really good.

  3. Finished my fifteen. I didn’t look at the prompt in time to actually eavesdrop on a conversation, but I want to do that some other time. So, I edited dialogue between two characters in a WIP for fifteen minutes. In this particular scene, I don’t think the issue is info-dumping. I think they just say a little too much, like at first I didn’t trust them to get the reader “there” without extra words. Anyway–I’m tired, so no more shutting them up tonight!

  4. WFMAD

    I just knew about WFMAD and I’m gonna try my best to write something before august is over.

  5. I know I’m not alone when I say: It’d be incredibly awesome to have you at the SCBWI conference!!! You are such an inspiration to writers and readers alike. Your presence there would launch a thousand ships! You could lead special sessions for authors the way Linda Sue Park led one on “scene building.” You’re such a well rounded author, too, writing across genres–you’d be a special voice in that way, as well. You could inspire the masses! You could change the world! Please?

    (Thanks for all of the WFMAD inspiration. You’re really helping me to think more deeply.)

    SCBWI 2010!

  6. Great examples of dialogue, both before and after suckitude. It often takes me three drafts before all the suck is tuded.

    And yeah, eavesdropping is great for writers. Willie Nelson once said the one regret he had about becoming famous was that he couldn’t sit at a bar and sort of turn his back and listen in on conversations anymore.

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