I am thinking about dialog today. It’s a topic I’ve covered to some extent in my Yakkity Yak essay, but I’m wondering if there couldn’t be a way to construct some bare-bones exercises to teach beginners some of the basics of improving it.
A starting point, I think, would be to actually have dialog as opposed to implying it. So I might preamble with:
Though there aren’t necessarily any right or wrong ways to do anything in fiction-writing, it’s sometimes useful to pretend this isn’t the case. This is because some techniques generally work better than others; some strategies should be employed sparingly, rather than as a matter of habit.
With that in mind, let’s attach the label “Less Effective” to this:
Hans & Greta debated knocking on Mrs. Witch’s front door.
And this one we’ll call “More effective.”
“Should we knock?” Hans asked when they reached Mrs. Witch’s door.
Greta shook her head. “If we warn her, she’ll call the police for sure.”
Part one of the exercise would then be to supply three more less Effective sentences:
Pinnochio lied about breaking curfew, but of course his nose grew and Papa grounded him for a month.
Snow White tried to refuse the apple politely.
Mr. Straw Pig indicated he would very much prefer not to allow Wolf past his threshold, unless of course he had a warrant.
Part two would be for the writer to find and edit some examples from their own work, and part three would be analysis: did this improve your writing? How?
I had the good fortune to get to read Lisa Voisin’s first novel, The Watcher, in my capacity as a writing teacher, and I was so pleased when I heard she’d sold it to Inkspell Press. Now there’s a book trailer–so have a look!
The Watcher is a YA paranormal romance. Here’s a snippet of the description from the author’s site:
Starting in a couple weeks, I will once again be teaching Novel Writing 3, which is an all-genres class that follows up on, naturally, N1 & N2. The syllabus is here: the gist is you write fifty pages and provide workshop feedback to your classmates on their novels-in-progress as you go.
Novel 3 has a somewhat lighter workshop load than N2–in the latter class, we’re putting the books under a microscope to see that they’re well begun. In this one, the workshop looks at things that are more a matter of nuance than necessity. (This is an oversimplification, but the upshot is fewer workshop weeks and more focus on your own book.)
Can you take this course if you haven’t had N1 and N2? The answer is a qualified yes. If you are fifty or more pages into a novel, and want a little structure in which to work on the next fifty–in many cases, the middle of your book–it might be for you. Check out the syllabus and talk to me. That said, The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program is also running N1 and N2 this quarter, with Dan Fante and Leslie Lehr, respectively: you can jump into that stream at the beginning. Or take the NanoWrimo course.
Finally, here’s a heads-up: I will be teaching Writing the Fantastic, my intermediate SF/F/H course, in January. This one is offered rarely and fills fast, so if you’ve been waiting do mark your calendars.