Say What You Need to Say

Dialogue is one of those things in writing that, when it’s going well, is seamless or even transparent. But when it’s going bad, it’s like riding a rusted out bike with bad gears and missing seat. It’s clunky. For both the writer and the reader.

One aspect of dialogue I find myself dealing with again and again is stating things too plainly. Too “on the nose”, or as my writing teacher calls it: “Tell me again Professor Evil why we’re planning to blow up the world?”

Because I struggle with stating the obvious in my writing, I back off. Way off, and sometimes too far. I take too “on the nose” to nowhere near the face. This of course leads to an entirely different problem: getting to The End and realizing the gist of my story isn’t on the page.

I once wrote a flash fiction piece I thought was really outstanding. I asked my husband to read it. He said the writing was good but he had no idea what the story was about. Yeah. I’d backed off into oblivion.

This reminds me of the story my writing teacher tells about finishing a crime novel and asking his wife to read it. She got to the end and said, “Great, but…who killed the guy?” He’d neglected to reveal the identify of the killer.

My point is sometimes all our artistry and wordsmithery carries us into vague territory. Instead of a clunky story, we get a gauzy, flimsy weaving of words that sort of falls apart in soft tufts at our feet. We only think we’re putting it all out there on the page, gift-wrapped and waiting for the reader to discover.

There’s an easy remedy, though.

Simply say what needs to be said. Then, move on.

Take care, though. Say only what needs to be said and not more. There’s a fine balance between Professor Evil’s narrative dump and flimsy obliqueness with a side of atmosphere. Sway too far in one direction and you’ll fall off the rope.