Writing Excuses 5.17: Dialog Exercises

This week’s episode, a day later than usual because of extended eggnogging*, features the submissions of a few brave souls who participated in Brandon’s tagless, unnarrated dialog exercise.

The rules were simple: Write a scene featuring nothing but dialog between two characters. The characters should have distinct voices, and the scene should communicate both setting and conflict. A great example of this is “They’re Made Out of Meat,” by Terry Bisson, which was a Nebula award nominee in 1992 (not a Hugo winner, though Brandon thought it was.) If you haven’t read it before, it’s a right treat and you should click on the story title and go read it right now.

Well… in 20 minutes or so (we ran long.) Listen to the podcast first, and pay attention as Brandon, Dan, and Howard gently dissect and critique the submissions of tagless, unnarrated dialog.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dune, by Frank Herbert, narrated by Scott Brick , Orlagh Cassidy , Euan Morton , and Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: You are walking down a back alley, and you meet Jason from DragonMount. He’s getting all uppity about how good his submission was. What do you do to him?

Word That In This Context Is A Euphemism For “Howard Got Sick”: Eggnogging: [egg-nah-ging]

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29 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 5.17: Dialog Exercises”

  1. Wow, this is a great exercise. I guess I need to get a Twitter account so I’ll know about things like this in time. If it’s not too late, maybe I will try it and post something here this week.

  2. Okay, now that I’ve actually listened to the podcast…

    I actually thought that the voices in the Meat story (which is fantastic, by the way–thanks for sharing!) were fairly well distinguished. This is not because the voices of each character were particularly distinct (you’re right, they weren’t) but because each had a very well-defined position in the discussion: “Hey look, these guys are made out of meat” versus “you can’t be serious, nobody’s made out of meat.”

    So that’s another tool for your arsenal. And THAT was a horribly mixed metaphor.

  3. Gosh, this is great. Could really have used it for last week’s writing prompt.

    Just combined the dialog challenge with the back alley prompt. AND I’m now following Brandon’s tweets. Next time, won’t miss it.

    BTW, where are you guys posting/sending prompt replies?

  4. For Howard: Here’s something to cheer you along to a speedy recovery:

    It’s my prompt from last week. In it, you’re a very cool superhero type guy.
    (Keep in mind that I hadn’t heard this week’s podcast…so there’s much room for improvement.)

  5. Now I’m curious… I’m wondering what kind of punctuation is allowable in dialogue to indicate pacing and tone- something that can easily help to distinguish different characters with no dialogue tags.

    I heard very little of that as Brandon was reading through the submissions- it was pretty much just read through as fast as you could (and I realize y’all are time-crunched and wanted to get to the critiquing), but I, personally, frequently use things like ellipses or dashes to indicate small pauses in a character’s train of thought. It’s also a visual cue for a reader, and I know that professional speech writers also use ellipses to help the speaker know when they need to pause for a second to let something sink in.

    Any thoughts? Suggestions? Rules by which I should write?

  6. “I’ve read [Dune] more than any other book, including books of scripture.”

    I’m thinking someone should buy Dan a copy of Dune with his name embossed on the cover. And a nice cloth carrying case for it.

  7. Thanks a ton for the dialogue challenge. It’s what got me to start writing my story instead of just talking about it.

    Where are you getting the examples that you are using? Is it just the ones you got from e-mails, or are you including the stuff posted at TWG?

  8. @K. Solomon – I believe one of the main things this dialog exercise is about is to teach us not to relay on fancy punctuations or other such things to make our dialog strong and our characters stand out as separate people on the printed page. If written correctly each character will stand out on his/her own without props. I always draw pictures of how I think my characters should look. Then I write a short profile for each with their likes and dislikes, their fears, hopes, their temperament when under pressure and so on. Then when they get in a certain situation I know how they will react. When you know that much about your characters, they almost become real to you which makes it a lot easier to write them as unique characters. Readers will also see them as unique characters and know who is talking without dialog tags or other things.

    I finally got a Twitter account so I don’t miss any more exercise should Brandon post another one. If anyone wishes to follow me, I am signed on as @OlettaLiano.

  9. @Howard: Just saw the tweet. It’s very cool. But, now I’m feeling a little guilty about the ride and the duds, especially since your Twitter image is cool and Matrix-y. When you guys do “Time Travel”…the non deceptive kind, I’ll take it all back; all but the leopard print. I’m pretty sure I got that part right.

  10. Hey, it’s the person who wrote about the cursed sandwich.

    Just wanted to thank you guys for your advice! And for this podcast in general. I obviously have a very long way to go, but I think I’m a better writer for taking my weekly dose of writing excuses, and it’s great that you guys take the time to do this. It doesn’t hurt that you guys are so funny, either.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that your advice was appreciated, and that I’ll take it on board, both when taking another go at this exercise and in future endeavours. Thanks again.

  11. How does one become a brave writer that submits his writing for abuse I mean constructive criticism?

  12. I really love these critiques – thanks. (And a pox about you, Brandon, you’re going to make me have to sign up for Twitter! Evil temptor!)

    Yes, cursed sandwiches are pretty awesome.

    And I happen to know, from reading the Schlock site, that Howard has really been ill (hope you’re feeling better soon, Howard), but otherwise, “eggnogging” connected with being sick sounds like an entirely different kind of ailment, at least, if people make eggnog the way my father does. ^_^

  13. I was going to send some dialogue in, but got scared and didn’t. Now I feel bad!
    You guys were completely nice about it, and it was a ton of fun to listen too. I appreciate how you look at what people have done RIGHT, rather then just tear it apart. Thanks!

    A cursed sandwich is made of Peanut Butter, especially if that’s all you get at work all week long. :)

  14. Not sure I’d ever write a scene this way, but it’s a great exercise to ensure your voices are distinct and to spice up dialogue to include setting and action.

    Given me a new perspective on dialogue.

    Great show.

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