You know what you should have said… (on Dialogue)

japanfest 2A few weeks ago I was part of a show at Atlanta JapanFest, demonstrating kyudo with the rest of Georgia Kyudo Renmei. Always a lot of fun, and we appreciate all the attendees who come out and watch us, try their hand at the bows and ask a lot of questions.

At lunch we took a break and one of the members of our group (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) was stopped on her way into the restroom by a young man who asked, “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

She stopped, flummoxed, and said, “Excuse me?”

He repeated himself, then she said, “Um, I’m going into the bathroom now…”

“I’ll follow you in there if I have to,” he said.

“I’m married,” she finally told him and rushed to disappear into the restroom.

When she came back to our group and told this story, we all said, “You should have said…!” and then proceeded to come up with various snappier remarks or wittier responses. This continued sporadically for the next few hours as we finished our demo.

We all have those moments, don’t we? When we’re accosted and should’ve had a better response, when we realize a funnier or wittier thing to say would’ve been something else, maybe that night in bed or the next day in the car, whatever.

Should’ve, should’ve, should’ve.

Or maybe, in other cases, we wince at things we SHOULDN’T HAVE SAID.

So I’ve been revising a project lately, going over each line, each word, every conversation the characters have with each other….and here’s the thing:


Alfred Hitchcock said a good story is “life, with the dull parts taken out.” This is true for dialogue also. To an extent anyway, we don’t have to have all that dull, awkward speech that happens in reality.

If our characters are witty, they can say that witty thing that we wish we had said. And if they don’t in the first draft, CHANGE IT. Or, if they’re philosophical, they can BE philosophical.

Such power we wield (insert maniacal evil laugh)!

It’s times like these I wonder why EVERYONE isn’t writing. What power. What fun.

There are limits to this, of course, and at the end of the day dialogue in a story should READ like real conversation. But, again as Mr. Hitchcock says, take all those dull parts out.

Another way to play with this is to have your character say the dull thing – or nothing at all – and have him THINK about what he should be saying, as if he knows how to be wittier but he’s too afraid / introverted / tongue-tied to go ahead and say it. This LACK of dialogue can go a long way in helping your reader understand who the character really is.

However you use dialogue in your work, just remember that writers GET TO DO THIS. And that in and of itself is awesome. I love listening to the people in my head joke, argue and banter with each other and then write it down.

Then I love diving BACK IN and making it even funnier. Or more meaningful. Whatever the tone of your story is.

What are ways you’ve used dialogue in your work that are different from the things you’ve said in real life?


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