Continuing on with yesterday’s look at Mirriam Neal’s fantastic list for how to write a page-turner of a book, I am moving on to:
3.) Write Witty Dialogue
For the longest time, I beat my head against the top of my desk going “How can I be witty, I’m not witty, I can’t write witty.” And my mind-imp agreed adding There are root vegetables more witty than you are. Which made me wonder a) where my mind-imp went when he wasn’t irritating me and b) what DO root vegetables talk about?!
When people talk about ‘witty dialogue’ they really mean ‘ banter‘
Here are some of my observations on banter in general.
1.) Guys banter differently with one another than they do when they are bantering with a girl they like.
2.) Girls banter differently with one another than they do with a guy they like.
3.) There’s a difference in malicious banter (sniping at one another) and the banter between friends.
4.) There’s one-upsmanship involved in bantering.
5.) Banter involves timing and usually takes place during action sequences or some sort of movement. It can take place in static places where characters are forced into something they don’t want to do, but it’s usually an ‘on the go thing’
So, how do you learn to write banter?
The best way is to listen to how people banter. Everyone usually has one set of friends who will trade quips and barbs when they’re in the same room together. Listen to how they talk to each other. You can also (and I highly recommend this) watch classic movies. His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant is a marvelous exercise in all kinds of banter, another that I highly recommend is The Philadelphia Story starring Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katherine Hepburn. Because of the censorship that was rampant in Hollywood during the time period, they were rather stymied about what they could and could not show. The way around this was through the dialogue and the banter. The moral of the story with the censors? Restrictions make you a better writer.
You can also watch television shows to learn the art of banter-writing. I highly recommend viewing the 1990’s television show Sports Night or The West Wing which ran in the early 2000’s. The writers from Sports Night worked on The West Wing, and you can tell. These ladies and gentlemen, are at the top of their game when it comes to banter.
For written places to crib from banter, you can no better than the Bard himself.
I recommend Much Ado About Nothing~and when all possible, go see the play. Don’t just read the words. Shakespeare really is meant to be performed, rather than read.
You know it’s going to be a fun listen when the two main sparking/sparring characters are introduced by the girl’s uncle in this way:
“They never meet but there is a merry war of words betwix them”
Beatrice: I’d rather hear my dog, bark at a crow, than a man swear he love me.
Benedict: God keep your ladyship in that frame of mind, so a man might ‘scape a predestinate scratched face.
Beatrice: Scratching, were it one as yours, could not make it worse.
Benedict: You are a rare parrot teacher!
Beatrice: A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours!
And it just gets funnier from there.
4.) Carefully Craft Your Worlds.
World crafting has always been for me:
2) time consuming
5.) a writing punishment
7.) I’d rather have something amputated, including my head, than sit down and work on my worlds.
However, there are ways of world-crafting that I’ve begun to enjoy. I’m going to share them here for the sake of the plot-first writers, the world-builders are all ready world-building and having lots of fun doing so. You guys can ignore this part, and glory in your strengths.
Don’t worry plot-firsts, I’ll pick on them more later when we get to the last two items Mirriam mentions.
The first thing I’ve learned as a plot first writer, use your world building friends. What do I mean by that? This, pop your ego, and go ask them for help. Jessie and Megan (both world builders) would give me surveys to fill out (yes, the ones that you saw by the majillion if you were on the interwebs in the 1990’s) as one of my characters. I had to think, what was so-and-so’s favorite color, why was it the favorite? What was their favorite food, favorite music, favorite movies, favorite scent, and why did they have those preferences. Try filling an old questionnaire out as one of your characters, I think you’ll find you discover interesting things about them.
Another fun thing I discovered is looking at exotic locations, and tagging them as different areas of the world I’m working on building. I look at the type of structures in these exotic location and think about the logic that went into building them, and then tweak and retweak as I need to for my own world. I also had a course on Cultural Geography which has helped enormously (as well as filling required course credit hours) in helping me understand why it is that people build where they do, and how cities spread out from their origin point. Be sure to take notes (if you aren’t all ready) for your story-world when you are doing course work and something piques your curiosity
Don’t feel like you have to change your whole style to world-build. I still don’t have languages all thought out, or traditions or cultural things figured out on paper. I work things out as I have the need. It’s how plot-first writers, write.
Sometimes, a lack that your people or culture have, will turn into a plot point. For example, on one world I have, called Daitha, there is no word in their language for husband or wife, but there are words for beloved, and darling. This factors into their culture. They also don’t celebrate birthdays. Why? I was tired and didn’t want to think how they would celebrate them, so I took them away all together. Now the lack of birthday celebration, like the lack of the words for husband and wife, have helped to form the world.
All right! Orange is over, onwards to Post Purple, tomorrow!
Encourage one another, Scribes!