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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tip #9 for Fiction Writers: When Writing Dialogue, Don't Use 'Yes' or 'No.'

Tip #9 : In Writing Dialogue, Don't Use 'Yes' or 'No.' 

 By Peter Gilboy    www.PeterGilboy.com


When was the last time you heard someone 
answer a question directly with a “yes” or “no.”

Here’s an example.
Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “Yes, I did.”

Would Tony really speak like that?  Probably not.

Point: People don’t say what they mean. Our characters shouldn’t either. Our characters should dance around it. Allude to it. Evade saying it. Avoid saying it. Then its real.
He said it didn't do it.
Sure. 

Does his answer, “Yes, I did,” push the story forward? Did it introduce new information into the story?  Not at all.

So, how can we improve it so there's new information about Sarah and Tony?

How about these?:

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “It wasn’t sex.”  (It was love? Something else? Now we want to know more.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “If you call that sex.” (It wasn’t so good, huh?)

 Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “Everyone needs a first.”  (It was his first time.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “You jealous?”  (They were former boyfriend-girlfriend.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “There wasn’t enough time.” (He would have, but he didn’t.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “Are you kidding?”  (Hmmm. What could this mean?)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “Like you care.”  (He’s noncommittal. He still has feelings for Sarah.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “What’s that supposed to mean?” (Typical guy.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “Do you know how old she is?”  (Noncommittal –new info- maybe young, maybe old.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “What do you think?”  (Noncommittal – and we’ll know more about Sarah by her response.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “You’re the one I love.”  (Noncommittal – but we know more about them.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her!”
 Tony:  (Add your own answer)
Want to know the truth?

In each of these cases Tony did not say "Yes" or "No." But the dialogue was real.  And “Yes” or “No” was implied in each response as the dialogue introduced new information. It advanced the story.

Bob "Are you really quitting your job?"
Jim  "Yes."

or

Bob "Are you really quitting your job?"
Jim  "Can't wait."

Which gives you most information in a short space?

HOMEWORK:

Look at the dialogue in our own stories.  Are there any Yes’s or No’s where there could be something better? Again, we (you and me) don’t really say what they mean. Our characters shouldn’t either. They should dance around what they mean. Evade it. Avoid saying it. The reader will understand. 

There’s the old writer’s dictum: If your characters say what they really mean, the story is in trouble.

So, really, when was the last time we heard someone answer directly? 
(Probably in a court of law.)

How do we learn to write better dialogues. It's simple. By listening carefully to the people around us. Use real dialogue and our stories will be smoother, fuller, and move much more quickly. 

 Happy writing. 

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, truck driver, short order cook, soldier and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.
He says he didn't do it.
Sure.

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  

His website is www.PeterGilboy.com    You can contact him at Hello@PeterGilboy.com

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