Life Lessons for Writers – Eight

Yes, it’s me, Jacintha Farquar, the unfortunate mother of the abominable Moons – that’s Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV to officialdom and ‘IVy’ to those fools who think him capable of stepping out of his self-centered and self-satisfied little world long enough to offer them some tenuous parody of friendship.
Well as always I have to go around behind him like the proverbial pooper-scooper cleaning up the mess he makes and, specifically, I have been asked to contribute to this blog to try and remedy some of the dreadful drivel he spewed here in the past about how to write.
He has no fucking clue – seriously!
Go read his book if you don’t believe me, no not that god-awful supposed sci-fi thing ‘Fatswhistle and Bucktooth’, I mean the laughably titled How to Start Writing a Book . I did my best to try with that too, but you’ll see if you take a look at it.
Anyway, back to the task in hand and one thing I see many of you writers struggling with is people having social intercourse. No, get your minds out of the gutter the lot of you! That means conversation, discussion, argument – communication between people.

Life Lessons for Writers – Eight: Social Intercourse

In the world of writing you don’t call it that of course, probably because the schoolboy giggles would get the better of you and then you’d not write a bloody word for the next week. You lot call it ‘dialogue’.
Do I really need to take you back to school, sit you down and explain simple things like where to put commas in dialogue and the difference between a speech/dialogue tag and an action tag? I hope not, but if you need that then stop trying to pretend you are writing a book and go and look them up so you have the faintest notion of what I’m on about.
Let’s assume you are over the baby gate and romping along at least at school pupil level here.

First thing to remember is to avoid ‘talking head’ syndrome when the reader has no idea of where/how the conversation is taking place. Begin by setting the scene, tell us where the chat is happening and who is present:

Mary and Tom sat down for dinner at their dining room table with their daughter Ella and her new boyfriend Paul.

Next important point ‘said’ is good. Consider:

“This tastes lovely,” Tom exclaimed.
“Thank you, dear,” murmured Mary.
Ella tapped her plate with her fork. “Well done, Mum,” she cheered.
“What is in the pie?” Paul wondered.

You get the point. Of course you wouldn’t just put in ‘said’ for all those which brings us to the third point, use action to indicate who is talking where you can:

Tom smiled across at his wife. “This tastes lovely.”.
“Thank you, dear.” Mary blushed, she had been working on the meal all day in honour of this special occasion.
Tapping her plate with her fork, Ella drew everyone’s attention. “Well done, Mum.” She lifted her glass in a toast.
But Paul didn’t seem to notice, he was poking at the food on his plate. “What is in the pie?”

Hardly brilliant prose, but you can see how it brings the conversation to life.

Next point, try to keep your conversation appearing real. Now that means you leave out all the repetitions and ‘um-ing’ and ‘er-ing’ that we all do in natural speech, but it also means you don’t have your characters declaiming speeches full of posh words at each other either. If you have a character who does that they will seem like a pompous twat to your reader!

Oh yes, one more thing. Don’t do this, it drives me bloody potty, like scraping a fork over a plate:

After the happy couple had left Mary and Tom cuddled up together on the sofa.
“Oh Tom, do you think they will be as happy as we are?”
“I’m sure they will, Mary, they seem made for each other.”
Mary sighed and looked thoughtful.
“Well, Tom, I am not so sure of that as you seem to be.”
“What do you mean, Mary?”

People do not use each other’s names all the time in conversation when it is obvious who they are talking to.  Do. Not. Do. It.

Alright, that’s your bloody lot. I’m not paid by the word for this you know, so bugger off the lot of you and let me get back to Netflix and pernod – one of my favourite cocktails…

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