A Dialog Exercise for Writers

People tell me I write good dialog. Here’s what I do.

I take a situation and I have two characters speak the way I would probably speak, getting down the basic back and forth on the first pass. We’ve talked about that here https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/writing-good-dialogs/

On the second pass, I add in funny lines, descriptions and actions, fleshing things out and adding perspective, thoughts, etc.

On the third pass, I tweak it so it reads smoothly and readers don’t get lost, and on the fourth pass I pare it down. You’ll see this one goes on too long because I’m still getting ideas in there and haven’t taken out repetition yet, but I thought it might be fun to see the process at work.

The first and second passes are the hardest, so here’s one of my scenes laid out as a second pass and as a first pass. The first pass is harder to follow, but if you put them side by side (open two browser tabs) you’ll see what I did differently

And you’ll see why it needs a third and fourth pass!

This is pretty long for a blog post, but it’s a process that requires two drafts available simultaneously, so this was the best way to do it. It’s supposed to be fun.

Top Secret working cover. Feel privileged?
Top Secret working cover. Feel privileged?

Poggibonsi, a romantic comedy, first draft

Chapter 19

Sam and Cole

This is the second pass. It is followed by the first pass.

SECOND PASS – open in a second browser tab and review side by side to see the changes. (Scroll down to see FIRST PASS)

Sam opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling. Not her ceiling, with a picture of Magnum PI taped to it, but a strange ceiling. She immediately wanted to vomit.

Oh my god, I’m a whore.

She was in a strange bed surrounded by strange walls and strange furniture.

And strange snoring came from the strange man sleeping next to her. She looked over at his naked back.

Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle a gasp.

Oh my god, I’m a complete whore. Please Jesus, let this not be who I think it hopefully isn’t. As she moved, the sheets felt cool against her skin, almost like she was… Her eyes widened. She lifted the sheet, peering down at her naked body.

She squeezed her eyes shut, mentally groaning. Oh my god, I’m such a fucking whore!

The snoring next to her continued. She looked over at the slumbering man’s naked back. Please, please, please, not him. Not him. Anybody but him. Her trembling finger reached out and touched him on the shoulder.

The snoring continued.

Another touch.

More snoring.

Sam gathered a sheet and wrapped it around herself, sliding out of bed and around to where she could get a better look. At the foot of the bed she steadied herself for what she might see. She took a deep breath and rounded the corner, eyes pressed shut, one hand holding the sheet, the other hand over her eyes, with just enough space between the fingers to peek through. She held her breath as she tiptoed closer

Please, please, please, please.

When she thought she was close enough, she stopped. Pulling her hand away from her eyes, she gazed down at…

Cole Zimmerman.

Her hand flew to her forehead. Oh noooooo. She reached out to the night table to steady herself. Oh my god I am such a damned fucking whore. She thought about running to the bathroom and throwing up. Then she thought about throwing up on him.

Bracing herself, she stretched out a foot nudged Cole with it. “Hey, wake up, asshole.”

“Hmm? What’s up?” He squinted against the bright morning light, smiling. “Oh. Good morning, Samantha.”

Sam frowned. “You raped me.”

He looked amused. “I what?”

“Don’t you smile at me, you rapist. You Cosby’d my ass.” She looked around. “You drugged me and got me up here to this… very nice apartment – and took advantage of me.”

He propped himself up on one elbow. “Slow down. I’m not quite awake yet.”

“I will not slow down.” She walked toward the door. “Where’s my phone? I’m calling the police. And where are my clothes?”

“Uh, well, you left a lot of them at the bar.”

She stopped in her tracks. “I did?”

“Yeah. You and tequila don’t mix.” He rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Or maybe you mix too well. It was quite a show.”

She put a hand to her forehead. Tequila. The whoremaker. She turned to face him. “You still raped me.”

He yawned, shaking his head. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”

Her jaw dropped. “Oh, what, I was begging for it? You piece of sh- ”

“Actually, you threw up. A lot. At the bar, and in my car on the way here. Before you passed out.”

Sam clutched the sheet to her chest. “You, you monster. You took advantage of me while I was passed out. That’s the lowest- ”

“Again, please.” He held up a hand. “I didn’t. Sorry to disappoint you. But you know, does it feel like you were violated? I’m told you ladies have a way of… ascertaining such things?

She thought for a moment, holding the sheet tight. Everything seemed pretty normal blow the waistline. “We didn’t sleep together?”

“Vomit is a real turn off for me. And there was a lot of it.” He nodded at her belly. “How’s your stomach feel?”

“It… feels sore.”

“And your lady parts? Decidedly not sore?”

She shifted on her feet. “Um, maybe.”

“Okay, well, that’s the best I can offer at the moment.” He reached out his arms and stretched.  “You may not like me, but we didn’t have- ”

“Why am I naked in your bed? And why are you naked?”

He raised his eyebrows, putting his hands on the sheet. Sam whipped around. “Don’t. I don’t want to see that.”

“You can turn around, I’m not naked.” He pulled off the sheet. Green workout shorts.

She curled up her lip. “Hah. Sexy.” They were, too. Zimmerman was in good shape. She admired his abs. What the fuck is wrong with me!

He scratched his lower back a little. “Yeah, decidedly not sexy, I think. Again, you and I just weren’t really in the cards after you started your geyser impersonation. You should really consider a good twelve step program.”

“Thanks, but where are my clothes?” She punched him on the arm. Wow. Firm. She refocused. “Why am I naked in your bed?”

He rubbed his chin. “One at a time. Let’s see. You threw up on your clothes, so I gave you some of mine. Yours are in the washer.”

“In your story I have clothes. Clearly, I now do not. Go on.”

“Then you threw up on mine.”

“And?”

“And I gave you some clothes to change into that I had in my car, a t-shirt and sweats. You puked on those on the way home.”

She squinted at him, both hands holding the sheet higher. “Whose home?”

He smiled. “Well, mine, because you were pretty unwilling to tell me you address. I’d have packed you into a cab except I wasn’t sure you’d make it home without dying of alcohol poisoning.” He chuckled. “And the cabbies were all sort of afraid of you by then. Besides, something bad could’ve happened.”

She closed her eyes and stomped her feet. “Something bad did happen! I came here. And Why. Am. I. Naked!?”

“Okay, let’s see. You puked on yourself in my car, and again on my couch – and I was running out of t-shirts. After a few rounds of that, I just gave up. I wrapped you in a sheet.”

“What a gentleman.”

“I also held your head so you didn’t drown in the toilet while you threw up. Do I get points for that?”

She looked down. “Oh. Okay. Well… thanks. I have a hard time believing you were so decent.”

“Me, too, but like I said, vomit’s a real turn off. I’m not saying I didn’t check you out. But the way you were heaving, you’re lucky I didn’t make you sleep in the shower. I was up half the night cleaning up the mess.”

“So we didn’t sleep together.”

“Oh, you slept. I cleaned.”

“Really?”

“Scout’s honor.”

“You didn’t…”

“I didn’t.”

“Wow, nothing?” She looked around. “Why not?”

He blinked a few times. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m good looking. Definitely out of your league. You didn’t have any… inclinations?”

He leaned back, pointing. “Weren’t you the lady who was calling me a rapist a moment ago? You look very similar to her. She was dressed in a sheet, too.”

“Why didn’t you hit on me? Are you married or something?”

“Not last time I checked.”

“Gay?”

“Let me think. Nope.”

“Then what? I mean, check out this rack.”

He craned his neck at her.

“Don’t you dare look!” She turned, pulling the sheet higher. “But there are some Grade-A prime breasts and thighs under this sheet.”

“I don’t disagree. I saw them last night.” He yawned again. “I’m not saying I didn’t cop a feel when you were passed out.”

“Aha, you molester!”

“I didn’t cop a feel, I’m just not saying I didn’t.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

He shrugged. “I have a reputation, too, you know.”

“Hmph.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Whatever.”

“I think you underestimate the suppressive power of projectile vomiting on the adult male sex drive.” He smiled. “Plus, I didn’t want to get fired or go to jail.”

She cocked her head at him. “Okay, but you didn’t hit on me at all?”

“Should I have?”

“Hell yes. I have a nice figure.”

“You have a great figure.”

“I’m pretty.”

“You’re a fucking knockout. Half the guys in the office have the hots for you.”

“Then why not?”

He sighed. “Okay, here’s the deal.” He patted the bed. Come, sit down.” Clutching the sheet under her neck, Sam carefully moved over and sat on the corner of the bed.

“I was taking you out to get you drunk so you’d spill the beans about Mike, right? So I could learn something useful to screw up his Italian project. If he goes down, I get the corner office. Partner. That’s it.” He smiled, placing his hands on his knees. “I couldn’t afford to let a booty call get in the way of that.”

He frowned. “I’m not a booty call.”

“Not for me, no. Or anybody else at the office.”

“What are you saying?”

“Everybody knows you have the hots for Mike.”

Her shoulders sagged. “Is it that obvious?”

“Yeah. Normally that wouldn’t even have slowed me down, but there was all that puke. And the fact that I wanted a partnership. I figure with the big office, I’ll have women lined up.”

Sam shook her head. “There’s the slime ball. I knew we’d get back to you eventually.”

“Oh, the slime ball was here all the time, Ms. Bond.”

“Excuse me?”

“You told me that you were like James Bond, walking into the trap on purpose just to bring out the bad guys.”

“I did?”

“You kept calling yourself ‘Bond, Jane Bond’ all night. Which was a porno in the 70’s, I think.”

“Yeah, I do remember that.”

He raised his eyebrows. “The porno or the spy thing?”

“The spy thing. And I started doing… oh my god, did I dance on the bar?”

“You did.” He nodded. “Like I said, it was quite a show.”

“But there isn’t a bar like that at…”

“At Marnie’s.”

“Right.”

“Yeah, you got us booted out of there after the first few shots kicked in.” He scratched at his head. “The place down the street was a little more accommodating to whooping it up. You danced on their bar.”

“It had a buffalo head on the wall.”

“A moose. It’s called Moosehead. The bar.”

“A moose. That’s right.” She stared at the wall, recalling the scene. “Then there was a fight, right?”

“Well, you and the shot girl got into it; that was a highlight. But then you dared her to a shot contest.”

“Oh, boy.”

“And she was apparently drinking water, because you lost. Quickly. Then you lost it altogether. That’s when the real fun started. You did a striptease, of sorts. But then – the geyser. For future reference, never drink on an empty stomach.”

“Okay, okay, so I think I have it all now. It’s coming back to me.” She buried her face in her hands.

“I’m surprised you’re not hung over, but I guess you got rid of it all.” He patted her on the back. “My car and carpet have never been so unhappy. And my couch. And my bathroom.”

“And you?”

“And I spent most of the night cleaning and running to get you when you started making cat-hairball noises. You went dry about 4am. That’s when I went to bed.”

She looked toward the living rom. “You could have slept on the couch.”

“Not after you redecorated it. And the floor’s not my style. Not in my own apartment.”

“I guess I should say thank you.”

“Not entirely. I mean, I didn’t take nude pictures of you to post at the office, but you gave up the goods on your man in Italy. He’s toast, with or without pictures from last night.”

She sat up. “What did I say?”

“Sam, you said everything.” He chuckled, rubbing his hands together. “And as it turns out, I didn’t have to do a thing. He’s going to fuck it all up by himself.”

“He- I- ”

He put his finger to her lips. “There’s nothing you can do, honey.”

She swatted his hand away. “Don’t call me that.”

“After the night we had together? Come on. And I didn’t post any pictures, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some. Like I said, you put on quite a show.”

“Ugh. You’re a real- ”

“Gentleman. And you’re a lady. And that’s how it stays. As long as you play ball.”

She looked around. “I’ll, I’ll call Mike myself and tell him everything.”

“Tell him what?” He shrugged. “That his wife says their marriage is rocky and getting rockier by the minute? I think he already knows. That Kenny messed up the surveys? He knows that, too. He’s flying blind because his liaison is laying half dead in an Italian hospital and he’s been treading water for two weeks. So far, what does he need to know? He knows all that.”

“He needs to know I’m here for him. That I can help.”

“Which is why you’re going to get the flu for a week and not go in to the office.”

“I’m not sick.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you should check with HR and see about the email rules again, Jane Bond.” He smiled. “Maybe you’re feeling under the weather and just didn’t realize it. You don’t take any calls from him or anybody else for a few days. Nobody’ll be the wiser.”

She scowled at him. “You like being a shitheel, don’t you.”

He took a deep breath, stretching. “I’d prefer to work hard and play by the rules, but look where that got you and you boss. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be getting undressed and getting a shower. Unless you’d like to join me.”

“Not a chance.”

“No, I didn’t think so.” He stood up and slid out of his sweats no the way to the bathroom.

Nice butt, too. Damn.

“Help yourself to the washer. That’s where your clothes are.” He pointed to the dresser without stopping. “And feel free to take anything of mine. Nobody likes a walk of shame. Except me, of course.”

He laughed as he shut the bathroom door. A few seconds later, the shower started.

Sam looked around. Grabbing a t-shirt and shorts from the dresser, she hurried to put them on and made her way to the washer for her wet clothes.

On the kitchen counter next to Zimmerman’s wallet and cell phone rested her purse. She grabbed it, slinging it over her shoulder as she headed for the front door. There was singing coming from the closed bathroom door behind her.

She placed her hand on the door knob.

Turning, she strode back to the kitchen. She opened his cell phone and scanned through the picture file. She set down her things. There were no nude shots of her, but there were quite a few where she was obviously drunk, and some of her dancing on the bar.

One after another, they all got deleted.

With his phone in her hand, she walked back to the bathroom and opened the door. “Is that offer to join you in the shower still good?”

It caught him by surprise, but he recovered quickly. “Have a change of heart?”

She yanked the shower curtain back, ready with her one-liner. Gee, that looks just like a penis only smaller.

She blinked. He was hung like a bear. God damn.

He smiled. “See anything you like?”

She managed to pull her eyes up to meet his. “Just this.” She held up his phone.

“Snap away. I have nothing to hide.”

“That’s the problem. You think you don’t.” She opened the toilet lid. “But you should.”

“Wait, that’s the new nine series! I just got that!”

She tossed the phone into the toilet. “Oops.”

“Fuck!”

“Is that an offer? No, thank you. A girl has to have some standards. But since you put me in hot water, how about some for yourself?” She reached over and flushed the toilet.

“No, no, no – Ow!”

Sam smiled as she turned. “Bond. Jane Bond, asshole.” She walked out the front door and down to the lobby, hailing the first cab that drove past the high rise.

The good feeling lasted halfway to her apartment, when she picked up her cell phone and called the office.

“Hello, Fran? It’s Samantha. I’m sorry, sweetie, I’m coming down with the flu. I’ll be missing a few days, maybe the whole week.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. Can I do anything?”

Sam sniffled, blinking back a tear. “No, I’m not sure anybody can help me right now.”

She hung up and swallowed hard, staring out the window the rest of the way home.

Same Scene, FIRST PASS – open in a second browser tab and review side by side to see the changes

Oh my god, I’m a whore.

Sam opened her eyes and stared up at a strange ceiling. She immediately wanted to vomit.

She was in a strange bed surrounded by strange walls and strange furniture.

And strange snoring came from the strange man sleeping next to her. She looked over at his naked back.

Oh my god, I’m a complete whore. Please Jesus, let this not be who I think it hopefully isn’t. She lifted the sheet, peering down at her naked body.

Oh my god, I’m such a fucking whore!

The snoring next to her continued. She looked over at the slumbering man’s naked back. Please, please, please, not him. Not him. Anybody but him. Her trembling finger reached out and touched him on the shoulder.

The snoring continued.

Another touch.

More snoring.

Sam gathered a sheet and wrapped it around herself, sliding out of bed and around to where she could get a better look.

Please, please, please, please.

When she thought she was close enough, she stopped. Pulling her hand away from her eyes, she gazed down at…

Cole Zimmerman.

Oh my god I am such a damned fucking whore. She thought about running to the bathroom and throwing up. Then she thought about throwing up on him.

Bracing herself, she stretched out a foot kicked Cole with it.

“Hmm? What’s up?”

“You raped me.”

“I what?”

“Don’t you smile at me, you rapist. You Cosby’d my ass. You drugged me and got me up here to this… very nice swanky apartment – and took advantage of me.”

“Slow down. I’m not quite awake yet.”

“I will not slow down.” She walked toward the door. “Where’s my phone? I’m calling the police. And where are my clothes?”

“You left a lot of them at the bar. You and tequila don’t mix.”

“You still raped me.”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”

“Oh, what, I was begging for it? You piece of sh- ”

“Actually, you threw up. A lot. At the bar, and in my car on the way here. Before you passed out.”

Sam clutched the sheet to her chest. “You, you monster. You took advantage of me while I was passed out. That’s the lowest- ”

“I didn’t. Does it feel like you were violated? I’m told you ladies have a way of ‘knowing.’ ”

(Everything seemed okay below the waistline.) “We didn’t sleep together?”

“Vomit is a real turn off for me. And there was a lot of it. How’s your stomach feel?”

“It… feels sore.”

“And your lady parts? Decidedly not sore?”

She shifts uncomfortably on her feet. “Um, maybe.”

“Okay, well, that’s the best I can offer at the moment.”

“Why am I naked in your bed? Where are my clothes?”

You threw up on your clothes, so I gave you some of mine. Yours are in the washer.”

“Go on.”

“Then you threw up on mine.”

“And?”

“And I gave you some clothes to change into that I had in my car, a t-shirt and sweats. You puked on those on the way home.”

Whose home?”

“Well, mine, because you were pretty unwilling to tell me you address. I’d have packed you into a cab except I wasn’t sure you’d make it home without dying of alcohol poisoning. And the cabbies were all sort of afraid of you by then. Besides, something bad could’ve happened.”

She closed her eyes and stomped her feet. “Something bad did happen! I came here. And Why. Am. I. Naked!?”

“Okay, let’s see. You puked on yourself in my car, and again on my couch – and I was running out of t-shirts. After a few rounds of that, I just gave up. I wrapped you in a sheet.”

“So we didn’t sleep together.”

“Nope. Scout’s honor.”

“Wow, nothing?” She looks around. “Why not?”

He blinks a few times. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m good looking. Definitely out of your league. You didn’t have any… inclinations?”

“Weren’t you the lady who was calling me a rapist a moment ago? You look very similar to her. She was dressed in a sheet, too.”

“Why didn’t you hit on me? Are you married or something?”

“Not last time I checked.”

“Gay?”

“Let me think. Nope.”

“Then what? I mean, check out this rack.”

He craned his neck at her.

“Don’t you dare look!” She turned, pulls the sheet higher.

“I don’t disagree. I think you underestimate the suppressive power of projectile vomiting on the adult male sex drive. Plus, I didn’t want to get fired or go to jail.”

Sam: “Okay, but you didn’t hit on me at all?”

“Should I have?”

Sam: “Hell yes. I have a nice figure.”

“You have a great figure.”

“Then why not?”

(He explains, omitted.) “Anyway, you told me that you were like James Bond, walking into the trap on purpose just to bring out the bad guys.”

“I did?”

“You kept calling yourself ‘Bond, Jane Bond’ all night. Which was a porno in the 70’s, I think.”

Sam: “Yeah, I do remember that.”

“The porno or the spy thing?”

“The spy thing. And I started doing… oh my god, did I dance on the bar?”

“You did.” He nodded. “Like I said, it was quite a show.”

“It had a buffalo head on the wall.”

“A moose. It’s called Moosehead. The bar.”

“A moose. That’s right.” She stared at the wall, recalling the scene. “Then there was a fight, right?”

“Well, you and the shot girl got into it; that was a highlight. But then you dared her to a shot contest.”

“Oh, boy.”

“And she was apparently drinking water, because you lost. Quickly. Then you lost it altogether. That’s when the real fun started. You did a striptease, of sorts. But then – the geyser. For future reference, never drink on an empty stomach.”

“Okay, okay, so I think I have it all now. It’s coming back to me.”

“I’m surprised you’re not hung over, but I guess you got rid of it all.” He patted her on the back. “My car and carpet have never been so unhappy. And my couch. And my bathroom.”

“And you?”

“And I spent most of the night cleaning and running to get you when you started making cat-hairball noises. You went dry about 4am. That’s when I went to bed.”

She looked toward the living rom. “You could have slept on the couch.”

“Not after you redecorated it. And the floor’s not my style. Not in my own apartment.”

“I guess I should say thank you.”

“Not entirely. I mean, I didn’t take nude pictures of you to post at the office, but you gave up the goods on your man in Italy. He’s toast, with or without pictures from last night.”

She sat up. “What did I say?”

“Sam, you said everything.” He chuckled, rubbing his hands together. “And as it turns out, I didn’t have to do a thing. He’s going to fuck it all up by himself.”

“He- I- ”

He put his finger to her lips. “There’s nothing you can do, honey.”

She swatted his hand away. “Don’t call me that.”

“After the night we had together?”

“Ugh. You’re a real- ”

“Gentleman. And you’re a lady. And that’s how it stays. As long as you play ball.”

(He tries to blackmail her, then he gets in the shower while she prepares to leave. Much of this got a second pass already but needs to rest so I can approach it with fresh eyes. It isn’t ready yet.)

On the kitchen counter next to Zimmerman’s wallet and cell phone rested her purse. She grabbed it, slinging it over her shoulder as she headed for the front door. There was singing coming from the closed bathroom door behind her.

She placed her hand on the door knob.

Turning, she strode back to the kitchen. She opened his cell phone and scanned through the picture file. She set down her things. There were no nude shots of her, but there were quite a few where she was obviously drunk, and some of her dancing on the bar.

One after another, they all got deleted.

With his phone in her hand, she walked back to the bathroom and opened the door. “Is that offer to join you in the shower still good?”

It caught him by surprise, but he recovered quickly. “Have a change of heart?”

She yanked the shower curtain back, ready with her one-liner. Gee, that looks just like a penis only smaller.

She blinked. He was hung like a bear. God damn.

He smiled. “See anything you like?”

She managed to pull her eyes up to meet his. “Just this.” She held up his phone.

“Snap away. I have nothing to hide.”

“That’s the problem. You think you don’t.” She opened the toilet lid. “But you should.”

“Wait, that’s the new nine series! I just got that!”

She tossed the phone into the toilet. “Oops.”

“Fuck!”

“Is that an offer? No, thank you. A girl has to have some standards. But since you put me in hot water, how about some for yourself?” She reached over and flushed the toilet.

“No, no, no – Ow!”

Sam smiled as she turned. “Bond. Jane Bond, asshole.” She walked out the front door and down to the lobby, hailing the first cab that drove past the high rise.

The changes are obvious when placed side by side (and so is the need for another pass at it) but hopefully you can see some of the process.

Later we’ll post the finished scene.

Feel free to ask for me to address areas where you have problems!

Makes a great last-minute Father's Day gift!
Makes a great last-minute Father’s Day gift!

If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

5 thoughts on “A Dialog Exercise for Writers

  1. Hi Susanne! Welcome aboard. If you send me your email address, I’ll send you my book The Short Years (just send it in the Contact Me box). Thanks for the follow! We need more good authors checking this place out!

    Dan

    Like

What do YOU think? Let me hear from ya.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s