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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Amie, What You Want To Do

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Let’s talk about dialogue. He said, she said. One of the biggest mistakes I see is using full sentences for dialogue. People don’t speak in full sentences. Full stop. Next is using dialogue as stage directions: “We took the highway to get to the mall, ” she said. Next is trying to use convincing dialect, “Y’all like slush puppies?” And last the old saw: dialogue shouldn’t advance the plot, only enhance it. I think it’s a good rule of thumb.

“How do you use dialogue?” she asked.

13 Responses

  1. How (or why) to use dialogue:

    To develop character.
    To show personality.
    To shed light on another character.
    So you can hear her/him.
    So a character comes to life.

    Hardest damn thing in the world to do.

  2. Helps me get inside a character’s head.

  3. “However I want,” he replied. And oftentimes badly, he thought — which opened that other sort of dialogue, the one-sided kind with himself, with only one loser, no winner, and no competition.

  4. Sparingly. My characters are often busy, even when having a cup and starting the day.

  5. Reading dialogue out loud helps. Sometimes. For me, rule of thumb is what you said – and what Diane Melton says above.

    It IS hard to get the characters sounding natural. And interesting. And most of all, NOT melodramatic, if the scene is an argument or some other moment of heightened emotion.

    And definitely damned hard to do.

  6. “How do you use dialogue?” she asked.
    “It depends,” he said. “Some stories need it one way and some stories—”
    “Need it another way. Yes yes yes, I get all that. But that’s not what I asked.
    “Yes, it is. You asked—”
    “I asked how do you use dialogue, not what do stories need.”
    “A distinction without a difference.”
    “What. What is a distinction without a difference. What I said or . . . what. I’ve lost you.”
    “More wine?”
    “May as well.”
    “That’s a helluva moon.”
    “Heavenly moon.”
    “Come here.”
    “Go there. We were talking.”
    “Must we?”
    “Yes.”
    “Your rule?”
    “I rule.”
    “You and your rules.”
    “Oh, you know you love it.”
    “You do have a way of shutting me up.”
    “So, shut up, then.”
    “But we were talking.”
    “Were is were and are is are.”
    “And you are . . . ?”
    “Through with this.”
    “What was that noise?”
    “It was a door closing.”
    “There’s someone else here?”
    “There’s not supposed to be. I’ll go see.”
    “You go see.”
    He went, and that was the last she saw of him.

    • I lost track of who was saying what. Just proves that transcripts are really, really boring.

      • O: 911, are you calling for the explosion at 11th and Harney?
        F: Gee yeah, we were in the, in a room—
        O: Okay—
        F: —when the restaurant exploded—
        O: Was anybody injured, that’s with you?
        F: Was anyone injured at all—you guys? Okay, everyone is with me right now, but there’s people—
        O: Okay, we do have help on the way.
        F: Okay [unintelligible] —
        O: We’ve got—we’ve got—
        F: —injured. Umm [unintelligible] bleeding, though. Hold on.
        O: Are you with a par—person that’s bleeding?
        F: I’m, right—yeah. There’s a lady who’s bleeding right now [unintelligible]—
        O: Okay, let me connect you.
        F: Okay. Okay.
        O: Stay on the line, ma’am. I’m gonna connect you, since you have an injured party with you, okay? One moment.
        F: Okay. I ‘m a nurse, here, so I don’t know if I can help in any way.
        2d O: Fire and Rescue.
        O: Fire and Rescue, this lady’s with one of the injured parties at the M’s Pub—
        F: You want—you want—?
        2d O: Okay. Ma’am—
        O: Ma’am—
        2d O: Hello? Hello?
        O: Ma’am—
        [multiple confused voices over caller’s phone]
        2d F: I need another medic on that.
        2d O: Hello?

  7. I agree with the enhancement part. I think dialogue is most effective when it reveals something about the character and maybe the plot; things blurted out. Everything else is just a rehearsal for the way the character thinks the world should work; the reader already has a perception of the character. Used convincingly, like when a character says something he/she didn’t know they were thinking, the reader is somehow aware the thoughts are a surprise/revelation to the character. Dialogue is most effective when it taps into the subconscious.

    I think I first saw it in “All the Pretty Horses”. Cormac McCarthy dropped all quotation marks. The conversations were never separate from the story. To me, it was editing genius.

  8. But really, is that the CUTEST damn photo you have ever used to illustrate the yin and yang of your wonderful posts?

    Rhetorical question. Way, Way Too DamnCute.

  9. Dialogue is probably my favorite thing to write and is the strongest point in my writing. But, just as you caution, I’m sure I use it too much in advancing the plot. Tough call, since conversation in real life truly does dictate and affect the rest of our story.

    “It’s really such a gray area.” she said, “much easier to control in nonfiction than fiction, which is why I should probably stick to nonfiction.”

    You can quote me on that.

  10. I love writing dialogue, especially when the characters are at cross purposes. It’s the best way to illuminate the relationships between characters.

  11. Dialogue. I am still embarrassed when I use quotation marks. Come on, peoples, there is no such thing as dialogue in writing. It is physically impossible. This dimension is so strange. But the arguments are so entertaining. God, I love people.

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