Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cool Dialogue Exercise

Week two of the rewrite is going well. I haven't made a whole lot of progress on line editing the First Encounter, but I'm where I wanted to be with the Opening.

I'll post more at length about the rewriting process when I have the energy (my allergies are acting up and I had a horrid night's sleep last night), but for now I want to share this amazing dialogue exercise, courtesy of The Fire in Fiction by  Donald Maass (who else? the man is a fairy godmother, I'm tellin' ya.).

First, cut and paste a block of dialogue into a new document. Strip away all the attributives and action, so that you are left with nothing but two (or more, depending on the scene) disembodied voices speaking back and forth. Save.

Then, open up a new document and rewrite the dialogue as an exchange of insults. The same information needs to be conveyed in the lines-- they just need to be taking pot shots at each other with everything they say.

Then open up yet another document and rewrite again, this time in lines of no more than five words. One-two, one-two rhythm.

In still another document, rewrite the dialogue as a monologue delivered by one character to the other, who gestures but doesn't speak.

Finally, go back to the first, stripped down version of the dialogue and rewrite it, incorporating the best from the other three steps. The rewrite will probably be much stronger, cleaner, and tighter than the original.

I've done this twice, and it's truly amazing. The insult exercise punches up the conflict, the short lines exercise helps with pacing, and the monologue exercise helps you cut anything "chatty" and unnecessary. It sounds like a lot when I describe it, but each step moves quickly. Plus, it's fun! The insult one is a hoot.

Give it a try if you've got a block of dialogue that's feeling flat or infodump-y.

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