Writing Better Dialogue

I’m in a coffee shop, eavesdropping on multiple conversations, and I’ve realized a few things:

  • People mostly talk about themselves. They don’t ask a lot of questions. They’re just waiting to say the next thing about themselves.
  • Real dialogue sentences are short. People speak in short, simple sentences. They don’t have vast vocabularies and they don’t speak in complex metaphors. So when writing dialogue, keep it simple. Save your complexities for your paragraphs of exposition.
  • People say, “I feel like…” “It seems like…” and “The thing is…” ALL. THE. TIME.
  • In real dialogue, people repeat their favorite phrases over and over. The guy next to me has said, “Well, people are stupid” 8 times already in less than 10 minutes.
  • People trail off when they speak. They speak in half sentences, then make gestures with their hands. If the conversation is animated, the other person will jump in and finish each half-sentence. If the conversation isn’t animated or emotionally charged, people will sit back, and there will be long pauses while the person gestures vaguely with his or her hands.
Advertisements

Two-Minute KLCC Radio Review Of My Latest Novel

Cover for Too Shattered

Here’s KLCC’s Connie Bennett reviewing my latest novel, Too Shattered For Mending (Knopf, Random House):

Click to read or listen to the two-minute review.

For People Struggling With The Writing Process…

Sometimes you don’t feel like writing. Or maybe it seems like you have writer’s block. Or – even though you’re writing, you’re doing the process – it’s not going well. Maybe a scene isn’t coming together. Or your dialogue isn’t realistic. Or you’re outlining and the plot seems too improbable.

Maybe you’ve published in the past and maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re your own worst critic. Maybe you never get validated for making art.

Regardless, you’re struggling. You might even say that you’re failing.

For those of you in the midst of that struggle, here’s a great essay by the award-winning novelist Don Lee:

What’s The Point Of Writing If You’re Not Going To Succeed?

Struggling With The Work In Progress

photo-2 copy 2

Once you’ve published a few novels, you start to feel like you know how to do things, like you have a style, like you can repeat the process. But it’s the same struggle every time:

My first draft is always terrible.

By draft two, I realize that I might be in the wrong genre.

By draft three, I realize that I need to cut at least 100 pages that don’t work anymore. Those 100 pages don’t have a single, salvageable paragraph.

Then by draft four, and I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere. I usually send that draft to my agent, and she tells me everything that’s wrong with it. She often says, “I’m not really sure what you’re trying to do with this novel…”

With my current work in progress, I guess I’m struggling most with my rhythm, with pace. After Too Shattered For Mending, I got a lot of praise for my short chapters, for how those short chapters pushed the reader forward. I thought I’d found something style-wise. But now – with my current novel – my short chapters aren’t working. I’m going back through the draft and running chapters together, moving chapters around, combining short chapters that lack significant action/content.

I can’t figure out what I was trying to do with my last draft. I keep saying, “Does this book even matter?”

“Should I keep working on it?”

Reading With Willy Vlautin, Wed, Feb 21st

I’m reading with Willy Vlautin tomorrow night in Eugene as part of his release tour for his new novel Don’t Skip Out On Me. We’ll be at The Foundry, Sam Bonds on 8th, at 7PM.

Willy was in London last week, and Portland last night (reading at Powells). He’s one of my favorite authors and an incredible reader.

Come check us out if you’re free!