Dec 20 2011

Don’t Let Information Take a Dump On Your Dialogue

Prologues should be hunted for sport.  They should be in season all year round, and whenever someone brings one down they should take pictures of themselves grinning like idiots over its fallen and bloodied body.  I’m sure many authors would agree with me.  In fact, there are probably several who jumped up from their computers after reading those first few sentences and started chasing their manuscripts through the house with a rifle.

 

When I read a piece of fiction, I’m trying to be transported into another world through the power of imagination.  I want characters, situations, and dialogue.  Tell me a joke, make me laugh, or let me see a glimpse of something that piques my curiosity as to what may happen next.  I don’t want a history lesson.  If your story doesn’t start at the beginning, that’s fine.  Let the people who have been brought to life through your words explain the beginning to me.  Wait!  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  I don’t want characters sitting me down and reciting a history lecture either.  If you can copy/paste your prologue into the dialogue, chances are it’s terrible dialogue.

 

In my collection of super hero stories, I recounted how the main character met two different people within the confines of one conversation at a house-warming party:

 

“Holy crap!” a voice cried from over my shoulder.

 

I turned and saw a masked man in bright green spandex standing on the other side of the counter. His chest displayed a large ‘R’ with a plus symbol next to it.

 

“Pete!” I shouted. “How the hell are you?”

 

“I’m great,” he replied, reaching to shake my hand. “How are you? Still a supervillain?”

 

“Last time I checked,” I said with a smile. “Uh-oh, you’re not gonna try and take me in, are you?!”

 

We both laughed at the inside joke and Alberto glanced back and forth at us in confusion.

 

“Pete tried to stop me from robbing a bank once and I totally kicked his ass,” I explained.

 

“Kicked. My. Ass,” Pete agreed with a chuckle.

 

“Then, as I’m standing over him about to knock him unconscious, he asks me out for a drink.”

 

“Worst first date ever,” Pete added.

 

“It was terrible,” I said. “We were both ready to leave in the first five minutes, but then started talking about how awful the date was and next thing you know we were having a great time.”

 

“Yeah, we agreed the date part was over then hung out all night,” Pete said with a grin. “It was hilarious.”

 

Alberto smiled but it was obvious he did not find the anecdote the least bit amusing.

 

“Man, I have got to pee,” said Pete.

 

“Well then, it was a pleasure to meet you,” Alberto replied, not bothering to hide his relief that Pete would be walking away.

 

Pete’s body shimmered for a moment before another identical Pete stepped out of him as if it were passing through a hologram. The duplicate then strolled off.

 

“So, where did you two meet?” the original asked.

 

Alberto squinted his eyes trying to figure out what he had just seen.

 

“They call him Re-Pete,” I said.

 

“Oh. That makes sense,” Alberto replied in a curt tone. He placed his hand on my back in a casual declaration of territory.

 

“Desire and I met outside of a club downtown. She was trying to smoke and needed a light, so I obliged,” Alberto said.

 

“Ahhhhhh,” Pete sighed in relief at something happening someplace else. “Much better.”

 

“That’s so gross,” I said with a laugh.

 

“It comes in handy when waiting in line, believe me,” Pete said. He looked over at Alberto. “I’m sorry, continue.”

 

There.  Now what have we learned about these three characters that didn’t require a prologue, flow chart, or syllabus to explain it to us?

 

We learned that Desire is a supervillain, she’s friends with a superhero named Re-Pete, and that the two met after he tried to stop her from robbing a bank.  They had one date, and from the sound of their conversation they haven’t seen each other since.  We even learned what Pete’s superpower is, and that he may lack social grace considering his announcement that he needed to use the bathroom.

 

It was mentioned that Desire is a smoker, and that she met Alberto in an alley outside a nightclub.  Based on Alberto’s reaction to the situation, we can probably assume he is either dating Desire, or has a romantic interest in her, and is not at all happy to meet another guy she once went out with.

 

The information conveyed was free of extreme detail and presented itself to us, the readers, as if we were overhearing a conversation at a party.  Could I have written all of that as an internal monologue for Desire?  Of course, but it would have been unneeded exposition.  Put yourself in the situations you are writing and bring us back-story only as needed and as naturally as possible.  Your readers, and characters, will thank you.

 

Adam Randall Russell is the author of four superhero stories and a single-father who spends his days with his two amazing daughters. Adam’s nights are spent in the company of a super villain with a taste for blogging who never ceases to give him interesting adventures to write about.  

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Don’t Let Information Take a Dump On Your Dialogue”

  1. Nic_Ton 22 Dec 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I couldn’t tell the main character was a female

  2. Marxon 22 Dec 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Haha, yeah same here.

  3. lolon 24 Dec 2011 at 6:24 am

    That was pretty funny!

  4. RisTiggeron 27 Dec 2011 at 3:10 am

    I thought this article could have been better. Exposition is a very difficult thing to understand and use properly in fiction. Even seasoned writers have trouble presenting exposition to the reader without it sounding fake or being boring. While your advice is helpful it still isn’t really enough. I wish you had put a little more attention to this topic than you did.

    Another thing that would have helped a lot more is if you disassembled and diagnosed your excerpt instead of just explaining it at the end. It’s a good example of presenting exposition but this is still a very difficult topic and a little explanation of what you did really isn’t enough. Overall I would have written this article very differently but it is still helpful, just more detail would have made it better.

    P.S. The main character was a woman? I thought she was a gay man. I feel a little weird now.

  5. Jimmypon 27 Dec 2011 at 11:19 am

    Yes I def thought it was two dudes dating, but hey just found the site today. Thanks for the advice!

  6. Marquison 27 Dec 2011 at 11:22 am

    Does ComicBookGuy Have A Review forum??

  7. Adam Randall Russellon 27 Dec 2011 at 6:48 pm

    This excerpt is from a larger story where it’s explained early that Desire is female, but as she is a bit butch, I can certainly understand the confusion.

    @RisTigger
    I was trying to write a simple 750 word or less article that was both helpful and entertaining. One could fill hundreds of pages breaking down every nuance of exposition and still not get it right. I hope, at the very least, I gave some folks a starting point on working it into the narrative. Thanks for the criticism, and I will definitely keep that in mind for future articles.

  8. B. Macon 27 Dec 2011 at 6:51 pm

    RisTigger, if you’d like to show your own approach, could I interest you in writing an article?

  9. B. McKenzieon 27 Dec 2011 at 11:15 pm

    “Does ComicBookGuy have a review forum?” I glanced through the complete list of ~120 and he wasn’t on it. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think he’s ever asked for one.

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