Monday, January 10, 2011

Three Ways to Better Dialog

1) Writing Off the Nose. What is off the nose? It’s easier to understand if we start with writing on the nose. On the nose is what you see is what you get, straight up, no twist writing. Reviewers hate this. Off the nose on the other hand is innuendo, doubletalk, passive aggressive even, anything but direct. It keeps the reader engaged.
On the Nose
Karen: Do you think I’m good enough for Steve?
Jan: No.
Off the Nose
Karen: Do you think I’m good enough for Steve?
Jan: I don’t see why not? Besides didn’t he just break up with that Brain Surgeon?
Example On the Nose
Jan: So what did Steve say?
Karen: He wants to remain just friends.
Off the Nose
Jan: So what did your Steve say?
Karen: Jan, do you think he could be Gay?
2) Non Sequitur. A complete change of direction, and as far off the nose as it gets. By putting in a non sequitur you throw the reader a curve, increase the suspense, add humor, or just plain avoid the topic at hand.
Non Sequitur
Karen: I think Susan’s going to fire me.
Jan: Damn! I just lost that heart shaped locket Steve gave me.
Off the nose
Karen: My job?
Jan: It must be hell working so close to Steve every day.
3) Writing Specific. Here you want to avoid general statements, and show not tell by specific examples.
General
Karen: Susan’s mean.
Specific
Karen: Did you hear? Without telling anyone, Susan had her neighbor’s Shiatsu put to sleep.
General
Jan: Dave’s an idiot.
Specific
Jan: Yesterday I caught Dave putting White-Out on his computer screen.
Adding a combination of specific examples, non sequiturs, and keeping it off the nose will do wonders for your dialog.