S.G. Browne

The Writing Life: Good Dialogue Isn’t Real Dialogue

I’ve often heard others say that in order to write good dialogue, you need to write the way people talk. You need to listen to speech patterns and expressions and emulate what you hear. The problem with this is that most real life conversations require a good editor. Everyday speech is filled with repetition and fillers and unnecessary adverbs like “basically” and “really” and “very.” Not to mention that many conversations tend to be unfocused and repetitive and stray off on tangents.

One way to think of it is that dialogue in writing is good conversation, but conversation in real life is not necessarily good dialogue.

So in order to write good dialogue, the trick is to write the way people should talk rather than the way they actually talk. You want to write dialogue that sounds believable but in real life never happens.

To quote Alfred Hitchcock: “A good story is life with the dull parts taken out.” Good dialogue is very much the same.

So what’s one of the best ways to learn how to write good dialogue? By watching movies.

Movie scripts have to be crisp and efficient. They’re all dialogue and action without the fiction writer’s burden of having to fill in the blanks with narrative prose. Obviously not all movies are great examples on how to write dialogue, but those that are contain dialogue that has a rhythm, is filled with conflict, and moves the story forward. Some of the films that get it right include L.A. Confidential, The Departed, Airplane!, Diner, and The Graduate.

I’d also recommend watching a selection of films written by David Mamet, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Mel Brooks, and Joel and Ethan Coen. All of these writers have a flair for dialogue and do a great job of conveying the rhythms of speech and conversation. The Coen Brothers are especially adept at conversation.

Naturally, since we’re talking about writing, it’s a good idea to read dialogue, too. So read as much as possible and as many different authors as possible. Read mysteries, romance, social satire, and thrillers. And if you’ve never read any Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker, or Christopher Moore, you might want to give one or more of them a shot, if nothing else than to see how they handle dialogue.

Filed under: Fiction,The Writing Life,Wild Card Wednesdays — S.G. Browne @ 1:36 pm

Writer Wednesday: Books in the Closet

I came across a blog post on Twitter yesterday via Publishers Weekly titled Shutting the Drawer: What Happens When a Book Doesn’t Sell? by Edan Lepucki. It’s a good essay about what happens when a writer has to admit defeat and give up on her first novel. To “accept the death of your first true darling,” to paraphrase Lepucki, who asks if she can “put my first book into the drawer and shut it?”

In Lepucki’s case, she’s talking about an agented novel that couldn’t find a traditional publisher, but it happens more often than you’d think. First novels by authors ending up in a drawer or in a box on the top shelf of your closet. Today it ends up in a virtual folder on your hard drive or on a flash drive rather than under your bed consorting with the dust bunnies, but the point is the same: eventually you have to accept the reality that it’s not going to get published and move on.

Of course, this was before Amazon and eBooks, when anything can get published now regardless of how many rejections you’ve suffered through. Or not suffered through. And with brick-and-mortar book stores folding like a bad hand in a game of strip poker, traditional publishing isn’t the same as it ever was. With apologies to the Talking Heads.

Although I don’t have any numbers to back me up, I’d venture to guess that the majority of “first” published novels aren’t first novels at all. They’re second or third of fourth. Maybe more. Lepucki lists a few in her essay. But it’s rare that a writer’s first attempt at writing a novel ends up on the bookshelf at your local stores.

I have three novels in my closet. Literally. The manuscripts are printed up and stored in Kinko’s boxes stacked one atop the other. My first novel is titled The Circle, followed by Mar Vista and finally Obsession. All three of them are straight supernatural horror novels and are devoid of the social satire and humor found in Breathers and Fated, which are technically my fourth and fifth novels.

I never had representation for the first and third novels, and my second, Mar Vista, had a short-lived relationship with an agent who closed up shop six months after taking me on. So my first three novels for the most part ended up in my drawer as studies on the art of novel writing. Six-hundred and four-hundred and three-hundred page exercises that helped to teach me how to write.

While it’s possible I could end up doing something with Obsession, my other two novels will remain in their boxes, gathering dust on my shelves.

Filed under: Fiction,The Writing Life,Wild Card Wednesdays — S.G. Browne @ 9:03 am

Beach Party Chat & Fated Giveaway

What happens when your publisher lists your dark comedy and social satire about fate and destiny as a Contemporary Romance on their website? You get invited to participate in a Beach Party Chat and Giveaway for mystery and romance authors, that’s what happens.

Tonight from 8:00-11:00pm EST, dozens of mostly mystery and romance authors will be dropping in to chat all evening on Writerspace and there will be hundreds of prizes — two Kindles, autographed books, gift cards and more. You don’t have to be present to win, but you must be registered. To register, and for details on all participating authors and the prizes they’re giving away, visit www.writerspace.com/beach.

I’ll be chatting from 9:00-9:30pm EST, or from 6:00-6:30pm PST. For those of you who live in Hawaii, Arizona, or Indiana, I have no idea what time I’ll be chatting.

However, I do know that I’ll be giving away two signed copies of the UK edition of Fated, the cover of which is right over there.

So grab your sunglasses, put on your swimsuit, and head on out to the Beach Party for your chance to win a bunch of prizes. And don’t forget the sunscreen!

Filed under: Contests,Fated — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 12:49 pm

Interviews and Podcasts and Readings, Oh My

I’ve got two new interviews up for your reading pleasure. The first is on Mourning Goats, where I talk about my writing process, why I prefer physical books to e-books, what it was like working in Hollywood, and the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me at a signing. My second interview is courtesy of Steve Hockensmith, the author of Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Dreadfully Ever After, the prequel and sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I interviewed Steve on my blog not too long ago, which you can read here. Steve took my own questions and threw them back in my face. See how I responded to them at Steve Hockenmsith, Writer Guy.

In addition to the written interviews, you can hear me interviewed with Scott Kenemore, author of Zombie, Ohio, on The Dead Robot’s Society podcast, where we discuss all things zombie.

But wait, there’s more!

You can also check out my Q&A on KQED’s Art’s and Literature section on their website, where I talk about my favorite San Francisco haunts, my childhood crush on Farrah Fawcett, and what song I would sing at a karaoke bar.

After that, click on over to KQED’s The Writers’ Block and listen to my reading of Chapter 1 from Fated. Or just click on the PLAY button below:

Filed under: Fated,Interviews — S.G. Browne @ 6:48 am

Movie Review Monday: Stupid Movie People

I don’t normally blog about films or books that I don’t enjoy because I know what it’s like to hear bad reviews. But if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s stupid movie people. So I felt like I had to speak up.

Now I realize that in some films people do stupid things because they’re stupid. That’s just the human condition. We do stupid things. We cheat on our spouses. We drink too much at parties. We believe politicians actually care about doing what’s best for the country rather than what’s best for their political party.

So I’m fine when people do stupid things in movies because that’s what reasonable humans do. But there’s a difference between doing something stupid in a movie and being a stupid movie person. A stupid movie person does something unreasonable that no one with any intelligence or common sense would do.

In the supernatural horror film Insidious, there’s a moment early on when the married couple, Josh and Renai Lambert, are talking in bed late at night while their son, Dalton, sleeps in an unexplained coma in one of the bedrooms. His brother, Foster,  doesn’t want to sleep in the same room as Dalton anymore because, as he explains to his mom, it creeps him out when Dalton gets up in the middle of the night and walks around.

(The fact that his mother doesn’t follow this up with something like: WHAT? HOW COULD THAT BE POSSIBLE? or YOU MUST BE IMAGINING THINGS bothers me, but that’s another issue.)

So while their infant daughter and sons are sleeping, one naturally and one not so much, there comes a knock on the front door downstairs. Once. Twice. Three times. Josh goes downstairs in his pajamas to investigate and turns on the outside light, which flickers and goes out. Unable to see who is outside, and hearing no response from whoever knocked on the door when he calls out to them, he does what any sensible husband and father of three would do: he opens the door.

But wait, it gets worse.

Josh checks the front porch, then closes the door, chains it, and turns on the house alarm. Moments later, when the couple’s infant daughter starts crying, Rose gets out of bed and goes in to check on her, only to start screaming when she sees a man behind her daughter’s crib. Josh runs upstairs to see what’s wrong, Rose insists that she saw someone standing in the room even though no one’s there. Then the house alarm goes off.

Good stuff. Except for the fact that these are stupid movie people. Or at least Josh is.

After telling Rose to take their daughter and son and go into Dalton’s room and lock the door, he goes downstairs to find the front door wide open and the chain dangling on the doorjamb.

Yes, this is a movie, but if this is real life, if this is you or me or Rain Man, we turn around and run back up the stairs into the bedroom and call 911 on the cell phone. Or we take our family and get the hell out of the house. Instead, Josh walks downstairs, closes the front door, then proceeds to search the downstairs with a fireplace poker or some kind of weapon, leaving his wife and children unattended and vulnerable upstairs.

While the film does a good job of building up the suspense, I didn’t care about Josh anymore because he was too stupid to deserve to survive the rest of the film. It didn’t help that the next day no one talks about the incident. No one calls the police. And then Josh stays at work/school grading papers late into the evening, leaving his wife and children at home alone after a traumatic evening. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. I smell a divorce. The incident felt like something that needed to be addressed but instead the main characters just ignored it. To me that’s either bad writing, bad editing, or both.

In The Big Lebowski The Dude abides, but when it comes to stupid movie people, I am most definitely not The Dude. Not if you want me to care about the characters.

And I won’t even mention the fact that the demon looks like a Cirque du Soleil reject.

Oh wait, I just did.

Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Movies and Books — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 2:50 pm