Picture this: The U.S.S. Enterprise (D) is facing some sort of massive problem that threatens the existence of the ship, crew and Life As We Know It. The legendary Jean-Luc Picard stands up from the captain’s chair, stares into the viewscreen and gives a fateful order.
“Conference,” he intones.
And everyone files out off the bridge — in the middle of a crisis — and heads back to the conference room, with its plush chairs and lovely views of space. Everyone sits down and begins to share information. Data expounds, Worf says something crochety, the counselor lady gets all new-agey, and Picard then makes a command decision. It’s all very civilized. If cappuccinos weren’t involved, they should’ve been.
As an impressionable teenager in the late 1980s, this was my main diet of science fiction. And it seemed perfectly reasonable, at the time, to see these characters hash out their problems in a calm, orderly fashion.
Fast forward 20-plus years. I’m writing a science-fiction/alternative history novel. And when there’s a problem, my characters react…by putting their heads together and talking it out.
Now, in everyday life, this is what people do. They come together, hash it out, make a decision and act. But I’ve learned — with difficulty, at times — that this doesn’t exactly make for compelling reading. In fact, the reader gets bored while waiting for something more interesting to happen.
This might sound pretty much like Creative Writing 101. Problem is, I never took Creative Writing 101. In school, I was on the journalism track. And what do we do in journalism? We use quotes for color and exposition. My wife Kate, who actually took creative writing in addition to having a broad journalism background, says she’s gotten lost in my dialogue. And my agent Sara has been urging me for a few revisions now to get the dialogue under control and turn up the action/mayhem meter.
So. I’ve had to figure out when dialogue is appropriate, and when it can be replaced with something more active — and something shorter, too. Honestly, I don’t have all the answers yet. I’m now in my fifth revision, hopefully the last, and the dialogue issue is one of the last things I need to tackle. Guess I’ll let you know how it turns out — succinctly, of course.