Magic is Back Baby: Writing a Good Line of Dialogue

When you get something right on the page, it is a major relief for any struggling writer worried that their voice won’t amount to much. I just wrote a line of dialogue in my latest revisions that, if its indication of anything, reveals how close this manuscript is to finally being done.

I’m on the autism spectrum, and that causes me to struggle with social interaction. Though I excel in academic areas and can freely hold a conversation with friends, social interaction is often not my strongest suit. That I feel comes across in my writing, where early drafts of my stories often contain idealized social talk with little conflict, or whatever conflict I put in is stilted and unrealistic.

I can recognize my weak areas, and dialogue is one of them.

But I’ve learned a lot from Stephen King’s excellent memoir on writing, and one of the things he talks about is flexing your muscles, seeing where you need to improve the most and focusing on those areas so you can bring them up to the levels of your stronger suits.

The first part of this is recognizing when there is a problem, which I already knew before even picking up the book. The second step is simply doing something about it. Getting on the dumbbell machine and flexing it.

In the first chapter of my book, the hero, a dragon, catches a pair of adventurers trying to steal his favorite pice of treasure. Being sort of a big jerk, my hero doesn’t exactly have many kind words for these intruders. Upon hearing a deity he’s familiar with is somehow involved in this intrusion, the dragon asks the question.

“How does a deity take interest in a rodent like you?”

The earlier draft was not very good. The reply was “I asked her for help. She sent me here.”

It was simple and direct, blunt in its own way, but there was no flare. This other character, christened a rodent by my lead, has some gonads of her own. She’d want to throw that back in the dragon’s face, I thought. So what to do?

The answer was in the actual insult. he called her a rodent, and what brings rodent’s running?

“I wanted some cheese.” she now says to the wyrm’s face.

This isn’t Shakespeare by any stretch, but it did make me chuckle a little. Stephen King was right. Flexing those writing muscles does work. This line will not win any awards, but the simple fact remains that it is much better than the last reply, so I can improve my writing after all.

That makes me much more hopeful for this latest draft. I’m already halfway done with the first chapter and expect to wrap it up by tomorrow or Wednesday. If I get a good pace going, I can plow through two to three chapters a week, and finish this draft in somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 weeks.

Better get back on the writing warpath.

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