`1` Romance worth killing for
Shattering Romantic Suspense
Author Websites
Elisabeth Naughton
Joan Swan
Linda Winfree
Author's Latest Releases

Coming Soon

AddThis Feed Button

Industry Blogs We Like
Agent Obscura
Anatomy of a Book Deal
Bookends Literary Agency Blog
The Bradford Bunch
Buzz, Balls & Hype
Jennifer Jackson, Literary Agent
The Knight Agency
Magical Musings
Mid-Willamette Valley RWA Blog
Kristin Nelson, Literary Agent
Jenny Rappaport, Literary Agent
Miss Snark
Murder She Writes
Paperback Writer
Romancing The Blog
Running With Quills
Working Stiffs
Samhain Publishing
Wine Country Romance Writers, RWA
Author Blogs We Like
Elisa Adams
Carol Burnside
Brenda Coulter
Tanya Holmes
Larissa Ione
Lydia Joyce
Elisabeth Naughton
Patti O'Shea
Edie Ramer
Kate Rothwell
Marissa Scott
Lynne Simpson
Amie Stuart
Joan Swan
Karin Tabke
Stephanie Tyler
Linda Winfree
Recommended Resources
Agent Query
Charlotte Dillon
Common Redundancies in Writing
Cop Talk--Karin Tabke
Crime in Mind
Cruisie/Mayer 2007 Online Workshop
Kiss of Death RWA Chapter
Publisher's Marketplace
Romance Agents
Romance Writers of America
Previous Blogs
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
What We're Working On Now

Elisabeth: Marked

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
33,126 / 95,000

Joan: Buried Secrets

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
68,000 / 115,000

Linda: Facing It

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
45,540 / 85,000

:~: Tuesday, June 06, 2006 :~:

Writing Tip...Power Dialogue

Have you ever gone into a dialogue driven scene and found yourself several pages in and totally on the wrong track? Found that your characters, while talking, sometimes going on for pages and pages, aren't really going anywhere, aren't really saying anything?

You read back over the conversation and start asking yourself questions like:
  • Where did that come from?
  • Where is this conversation going?
  • Where did it veer off track?
  • How can I bring it back around?
  • What in the hell am I trying to say here?

And there are character questions:

  • Is that the way character "A" would act?
  • Is that really what he/she'd say?
  • Is that really the way he/she'd say it?
  • Is that really the way character "B" would react?
  • Is the conversation getting off track?

Then there are the deeper craft issues to consider:

  • Is the speech unique to each character?
  • Does the dialogue show each character's personality and/or conflict?
  • Is the dialogue realistic without the tedium of reality?
  • Does the dialogue further the plot?
  • Does it go on too long? Not long enough?
If you follow our blog, you know I'm working on revisions to Safe In Enemy Arms--specifically deepening my characters.

I've been trying to write a scene between my h/h. It's an important, tone-setting, character-revealing conversation filled with complex conflict and emotion on both sides. It occurs in chapter two, which spikes the demand that it be riveting, fast and spunky as well as informative. In chapter two there is no room to go off track and risk losing your reader. Or, in my case, since I'm unpublished, my agent or a potential editor.

Additionally, I'm not particularly good at spunky banter. Needless to say, this scene has been a bitch to write, and in fact I've rewritten it about six different times.

Finally, I realized my problem--I didn't have clear GMC.

No, not for my characters--their GMCs were intricately lined out long ago. The GMC I was missing was for the conversation itself.

Conversations can have GMC, you ask?

My mentor of sorts, Catherine Ryan Hyde, once said in a dialogue class that to make dialogue come alive, every character involved needs an agenda (or something to that affect).

And, in working out this conversation between Rio and Cassie, I've discovered not only do they have an agenda for the story--their goal and motivation--but they have an agenda for each scene. Furthermore, they have an agenda for every action they take, every reaction they portray, and every word they speak.

That's characterization.

So, I developed this outline specifically for this one conversation to help me decide on tone and direction. To help me portray their characters as well as their characteristics (yes, character and characterization are different--but that's a whole other post topic). To show their GMC, their internal demons and struggles.

For those pantsters in the audience, consider this a tool, not a worksheet, not an outline.

Here's an example: (This may seem like a lot of work, but consider how much time you waste writing and rewriting. This information only took me about fifteen minutes to type up, a fraction of the time I've spent rewriting.)

Situation: Cassie has come home to Ensenada, MX, to take care of final details regarding the deaths of her mother and stepbrother. She has to face her evil stepfather, Saul, who still lives at the estate which is Cassie's childhood home. Rio is acting as Saul's security. He provided Cassie with much needed compassion and support on the day of the funerals (a stranger to Cassie at the time) some six months back (backstory).

On Cassie's first day back in town, she goes to the marina to ask questions about the yacht explosion that killed her mother and stepbrother. Rio follows her, underestimating her intuition and experience, and she discovers him.

Conversation: Cassie ambushes Rio and confronts him on his surveillance activity.


Goal: (What does Cassie want out of this conversation? Why have it?)
  • Regain control by setting limits
  • Get a "read" on Rio
  • Get information from Rio
    ~Why he's following her
    ~Why protection is an issue
    ~What he is to Saul
    ~What he was to her mother and brother
    ~Is he the compassionate man she met at the cemetery or is he like Saul?
    ~Is he sincere or is he a fake?

Motivation: (Why does she want/need these things/this information?)

  • Her own safety. Rio's association with Saul is threatening; his surveillance is threatening.
  • The security of her estate.
  • Uncover Rio's true personality, decide whether he's friend or foe.
  • Know what she's up against with Saul and Rio.

Conflict: (Why can't she get this information?)

  • Rio is evasive and skilled at turning the tables on her.
  • She's unnerved by Rio's confidence and uneasy with his resemblance to a previous attacker (backstory) in size and appearance, making her somewhat resistant to push issues too deeply with him.
  • Her emotions are undermining her ability to think and behave with rational and control.

Emotion: (Adds information you'll need to create undercurrent in the dialogue--tone, mannerisms, facial expressions)

  • She's pissed that Saul has Rio following her.
  • She's pissed that Rio's working for Saul.
  • She's pissed and hurt/betrayed that he has turned out to be something other than what she thought.
  • She still wants to believe he is the man she thought he was when they first met.
  • She's scared of confronting him--lingering anxiety from her past and the rising suspicions over her mother and brother's deaths and his resemblance to the man who attacked her years ago.

If I'm Cassie--need to control, need for information/answers, angry and hurt, intelligent and street-smart but also personally insecure--how am I going to handle this?

  • Tone down my pissy, bossy attitude with cool sarcasm so as not to put Rio too deep on the defensive.
  • Ignore memories of the past with Rio and work to get a more objective gauge of his personality/agenda.
  • Ignore uneasiness from past attack but listen to my instincts.
  • Portray the image of total control, casual confidence. Show no weakness.


Goal: (What does Rio want out of this conversation? Why have it?)

  • Uncover Cassie's agenda--does she suspect something or is she here for the reason she says she's here for--to work on the clinic?
  • Roll with the conversation--answer as little as possible while gaining information from Cassie.

Motivation: (Why does he want/need these things/this information?)

  • His own safety
  • Cassie's safety--if she is an innocent bystander
  • The success of his mission

Conflict: (Why can't he get this information?)

  • Cassie is evasive, pushing for her own answers to questions he can't answer.
  • She's already suspicious. If he pushes too hard, she could ruin the entire mission Rio's spent a year working on because she has all the control--over the estate, over Saul, over finances.

Emotion: (Adds information you'll need to create undercurrent in the dialogue--tone, mannerisms, facial expressions)

  • Angry with himself that she caught him following her, that he underestimated her.
  • Angry she came at the worst possible time in the mission.
  • Angry with Saul for not giving him more notice of her visit so he could have prepared.
  • Frustrated with the assignment in general.
  • Frustrated that Cassie is so difficult to deal with.
  • Frustrated that he's losing control of the situation.
  • Confused over his attraction to her.
  • Confused over just who she is and isn't, curious about her true nature.
  • Afraid she'll get in the middle and get hurt.
  • Afraid she'll blow the mission digging too much.

If I'm Rio--an undercover ICE agent in a dangerous situation with an unknown and potentially volatile entity thrown in at the most dangerous moment--how would I react to Cassie's confrontations?

  • Evasion of her questions/acquisition of his own information:
    ~What is she really doing here?
    ~What does she know of Saul's crimes?
    ~How long will she stay?
    ~How much control is she looking for?
    ~How much trouble will she be?
    ~Will he be able to control her?
  • When Cassie proves to be a worthy adversary in the evasion department, he tries charm. When charm pisses her off, he tries sincerity.
  • Ultimately, he remains impassive to reduce the amount of friction between them.

My purpose for this scene (as the author):

  • Cement characterization
  • Add sexual tension
  • Further plot
  • Add story questions
  • Add touch of backstory

How I can accomplish that:

  • Mannerisms, speech patterns during dialogue--attitude behind words.
  • Internals--Cassie's thoughts of Rio, memories of Rio, emotions, attempts to control her frustration, reactions to Rio's comments.
  • Dialogue itself--lots of questions, few answers--both sides.

What elements I want in this scene:

  • A softening of their adversarial relationship.
  • A rekindling of the tentative bond they'd shared in the cemetery.
  • A grudging respect/admiration for each other.
  • A cat and mouse kind of banter, both holding back their emotions, but both brimming with similar feelings of anger, frustration and fear.

How I can accomplish that: (We're in Cassie's POV)

  • Show Rio acquiescing to Cassie (otherwise she'll only push back harder, but have to do it in a somewhat grudging/sarcastic/charming way or he'll look wimpy)
  • Show Cassie seeing something good in him
  • Show Cassie's attraction to him--wanted or not
  • Show Cassie's memories softening her toward him
  • Show Rio offering to help, displaying a concern for her safety (which is a core concern for her because of her past)
  • Show intelligent conversation. Banter.

Hope this helps any of you out there struggling with dialogue--moving the plot forward, keeping it interesting, fresh and true to your characters.


Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Okay, now I'm looking forward to reading this new scene. :)

You always have great tips, J!

7:43 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

Uh, yeah, well...I'm still working on it! :-) But at least I've got direction instead of going round and round in circles!

9:58 PM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

I have never once thought about plotting a conversation! I know you use dialogue to move the story forward and give information, but I've NEVER broken down a conversation like that! And I probably never will! I'm not that deep. I writer fun fluff!

7:53 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home