Creating Dialogue That Doesn’t Suck

So far, most of my editions of Verb(al) Abuse were general, directed more towards the hoi polloi than the writing community. Granted, I think most of the writers reading my mental detritus got a good chuckle from what they found so… mission accomplished? Anyway, this section’s more geared towards you fine folks– and people that want to be like you.  Notice I didn’t say me.  I’m still working on that part.

Fleshing out a character is nine parts demonstration, and one part bullshit. The bullshit I speak of is every newbie’s favorite tool– explication. I’m ignoring that part and skipping straight to the naughty bits that let you look inside the skull: the words coming out of that character’s mouth.

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The more I look at it, the more perfect this image break fits.

We’ve all heard the tired fucking Show/Tell advice, and yes– we can learn much about a character based on what they do and how.   That said, there are things you can do with a character’s dialogue that gives insight that description and demonstration cannot. I love dialogue for this reason above all else, and it’s a rarity that I go more than a page or two without it.

Dialogue is one of the easiest things to fuck up. Just because you’ve written inside quotations with perfect grammar does not guarantee that it sounds like it came out of someone’s mouth. In fact, there’s the beauty of dialogue– you can fuck with grammar, spelling, whatever! If you’re inside quotation marks, you can abuse pretty much everything to have the character flesh themselves out for you. Basic, yes, but also dern useful.

Protip segue aside, the point is:  dialogue should sound spoken. The operand fucking term here is sound– and yes, I’m telling you to speak your dialogue while you’re editing. Some famous writer has been quoted to that effect, but fucked if I remember who it was.  (Can someone please comment with the author?  This is earworm-level bugging me.)  He was 100% spot on, in a very literal sense.

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And now it serves to illustrate the point.

Read it out loud, and don’t fucking lie to yourself.  Go back to what you’ve written a few days later, drunk, and try it again.  See if it sounds like a bag of dicks.

If it does, fix it on the spot as drunk you desires.  Talk it out.  Save it into a different file name and go on with your bad self.  When you sober up, read them both out loud again and let your ears tell you which passage sounds better.

Try it.  You might be surprised.

Unplug.

 

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Wrap It Up!

There are few crimes more reprehensible than droning on for ten pages for a concept that could be expressed in ten sentences.  I touched upon this a couple weeks ago.  Oh yes, boys and girls and smizmars, let’s tie this fucker off right!

TieOff

I’ll bet this is knot the joke you were expecting.

There are a few ways you can bring a piece to a close, and it’s up to your better judgement (ha ha) to decide which method is most useful.  Making a grandiose oversimplification, as I’m wont to do, “closings” can be grouped into three categories so loose, yo’ momma’ll seem tight.

  1. The Cliffhanger
  2. The Summary
  3. The Fuck You

“The Cliffhanger” tends to be better used in works of fiction.  For example, let’s say I stuck my assjack protagonist in the clutches of his former-and-probably-future lover, and he happens to be handcuffed to a chair in the non-giggity sort of way.  I know I could carry on for another dozen pages juggling witty repartee and bitchslaps to his booze-guzzler.  That said, what would these slapstick pages add to my story?  Absolutely fucking nothing.  The object of a cliffhanger is to cement an ending with a single blow like a shovel to the forehead.

Using a such a wrap-up forces you to think about what you have written as a complete work.  If you’ve already accomplished what you’ve set out to do, as I did with Maxie, sometimes it’s as simple as a slammed door on a solitary prisoner.  Abrupt endings are meant to be jarring, and even though they should leave some questions unanswered– make sure it doesn’t leave too many things in the air.  Drop a cliffhanger before it’s properly set up, and you’ll come off like a kid who tried to bang out an entire research paper before breakfast.

Speaking of papers, that brings me to the next big-ass category. Summaries are best used for non-fiction work.  Now don’t get fucking picky with me, because this covers everything from emails to academic papers.  Touch on your key points, but don’t waste keystrokes rehashing them.  The point is to wrap everything up like a present, right down to the tidy little bow.  The point of The Summary is to have a nice feeling of completion once you’re done with the last sentence.  If you discover another way of presenting the topic– that shit belongs in the body of your work, so get to rewriting.  Unless you’re planning to drop a bombshell (thereby combining The Cliffhanger with The Summary), tie it together and be done with it.  If it takes more than a paragraph to wrap up, you’re doing it wrong.

GibbsSlap

Some day you’ll learn, probie.

The one everyone’s been waiting for is lucky number three: the Fuck You.  This is a thing of beauty, because this method is not just meant to wrap up what you’ve written– it’s wrapping everything up.  It’s the last word– and it absolutely cannot work unless you have covered every last angle with OCD-esque attention to detail.  The French call it a coup de grâce, and the more popular term these days is the “mic drop.”

This doesn’t have to be nasty, some of the very best sign-offs of this category take lofty roads.  This ending is abrupt, much like a Cliffhanger– except all want for further discourse is dead like political integrity.

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And fuck whatever retort may be flung after the deed is done.  It’s over.

Unplug.

The Art of the Smackdown (Edition 1)

I’ve spent several entries going over some basic tenets of getting a point across. What if your sole intent is to tell someone how many offs they should fuck– and how they should perform the act? I did promise a few random entries for upping your roast game… and believe you me, some of the atrocities I’ve unleashed should be banned by the Geneva Accords.

AdHominem

… because fuck you.

Yes, we’re on the offensive today. At one time, simple vulgarity was plenty to insult someone to a state of blessed silence. Now, a simple F-bomb is fucking child’s play. If you march into a war of words with but a few choice profanities as your armament, you’ve brought butter knife to a howitzer fight. There are three basic principles behind a devastating diatribe.

  1. Make it memorable.
  2. Cut them deep.
  3. Make everyone else laugh.

If you are going to walk down the scorched path towards roasting someone, make sure they never forget who the fuck you are. This is easier to illustrate than it is to explain, so take the following pairs into consideration. Each pair has the same basic premise and intent. One is basic, the other sublime.

  • Eat shit and die, asshole.
  • Go chug a bottle of fucking Drano and finish what your mom’s coat hanger missed.
  • You’re pathetic.
  • Fucktards like you shouldn’t reproduce, and if you did– I demand an apology on behalf of the gene pool.
  • Fuck off, gold digger!
  • You’re the kind of shitbag who’d suck dick for cab fare and walk home.
  • Shut the fuck up!
  • If I wanted any shit from you, I’d yank the buttplug out of your mouth and squeeze your head.

Take some time to think about the target, and hit them from an angle they didn’t see coming. Blindside them with creative malice. That malodorous sack of genetic party favors on the receiving end will expect average assholery– so suckerpunch them in the think jelly. Some of the worst insults are effective because the victim has to think about it first. They need to put in effort just to find the middle finger– and that is every bit as unforgettable as a steel toed jackboot to the nards.

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Pay attention; you’ll learn how.

So, we’ve covered my first basic rule of hurling ad hominem assaults. Second rule, cut them to the core. On the rare occasion where ignoring a misguided shitpost-machine just will not do, don’t pick a fight. Slaughter them from moment one. It’s not a matter of who starts it– it’s who ended it by causing a Fukushima-grade meltdown.

Two things to keep in mind, because this can be tricky to execute properly:

  1. Choose your wording with extreme care.
  2. Mind the witnesses.

Yes, these are intertwined. You are out to devastate, and the way to do that is to make them hurt. If you know your intended recipient, start throwing low blows like Johnny fucking Cage. If all you know is based on the written abortion on your screen, this is where the tricky part comes into play. F-bombs are fun, sure, but nobody gives a flying fuck about them being offensive. I shouldn’t have to say this, but racial/ethnic/sexist/phobic/etc. insults are out of bounds. They do not serve your purpose (quite the opposite)– end of story. If you can’t keep those terms out of your vocabulary, find the nearest fire and die in it.

In the case of a random online encounter, creep the fucker. You’ll have to think like a P.I. to find out what hurts them most. Sometimes it’s as easy as destroying them based on their inability to use a fucking spellcheck. Grammar Nazi tactics are effortless, and are usually enough to berate a fool into silence.

In person? Well shit, play off what they’re saying. If your wit lacks alacrity, just shut your noise hole and get someone else do the dirty work for you. Witnesses can be your worst fucking enemy when hurling insults, because you never know who may jump into the fray. There will always be a bigger assjack out there, and you do not want to give them reason to prolong the fight by joining the opposition.

tacohuman

No comebacks. No replies. Just STFU.

Last up, make others laugh. Very few wars of words come without witnesses. A major impact factor of an insult is derived from the reactions of third parties. Like yours truly, some people appreciate unabashed brutality, and there are instances where a sledgehammer is called for. More often than not, if your delivery is entertaining on a broad scale– it is far more effective in shutting up the half-cocked fucknugget on the receiving end. You can obliterate a person’s psyche by cutting them deep, sure, but when it’s coupled with the secondary impact of everyone laughing at their expense… your victory is all but assured.

These things said, I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t close with this: an ad hominem attack is not an advisable course of action. If you’re adamant about taking that route, just remember that like nuclear warfare… there will be fallout. It doesn’t matter if you care about it, it is inevitable and can occur in unforeseen ways. Do you really want to deal with that shit?

Unplug.

Consider Your Audience

Someone just cringed, and it wasn’t me. Yes, I’m going to try and teach better judgment– and I know that this is a bad fucking idea. It should also be obvious that said classification of ideas tends to put a quiver in my loins. Ok, yeah, that might be a bit far… so I should probably–

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I may revel in bombastic turns of phrase, but there is one thing I keep in mind when at the keyboard– or running my mouth. Who is on the receiving end? You don’t address a child the same way you do a peer. Sure, I know several kids that are smarter than most adults… but you’re not going to ask a fuckin’ kid the best way to get pegged. I’ll leave the obligatory joke to those of you snickering, because yes– I thought about putting five different ones here. Anyway, you get the point.

Age difference is the most basic way to illustrate where I’m going in this edition of Verb(al) Abuse. Consider who makes up your target audience; who are you trying to get to? Is it one person, or is it a group? What kind of people make up said group? It’s more to consider than most people realize, and taking the time to ponder these factors is crucial to being received as you desire.

Was that too flowery for you?  If you want to get your way on the first try, think about who the fuck you’re talking to.

Take Verb(al) Abuse, for example. It’s for you, designed for a broad reader base. Some of you are reading this because you’re interested in picking up writing tips, as written by an easily-understood wiseass that can keep your attention. Some of you are here for the laughs, because you see why this shit’s necessary. See? No matter what: it’s for you.

When you park your ass at a keyboard, or get your thumbs limbered up, think about what you’re doing. Are you bullshitting with one close friend? Fuckin’ Thunderdome– you probably don’t even need to proofread that shit. Being a dick on social media? That can be touchy, just be ready for the potential for backlash. Don’t bitch if someone else is better at being a dick than you are. How about a coworker or a boss? I don’t care who you think you are at work, looking like a sporkfucker is a quick way to unnecessary bullshit. Make sure professional things sound fucking professional. Joking aside, read what you’ve written out loud– and your ears might tell you something that your eyes have missed.

Consider your audience, how smart are they? I’m not saying refrain from firing off $5 words. I’m saying you can’t be too sly with the dumb ones. If you don’t drop an ACME anvil on their head, they’ll miss your point. Yes, we all love to lob verbal hand grenades that don’t go off until later when Google gets checked– but keep it short if your audience seems like they’d hiss and recoil from the front steps of a library. Their attention span will be short, so you’ve got to be blunt.

relevance

But wait, there’s more!

 

Does all of this sound like a lot? You bet, and all of it is important. It’s part of establishing a thing called tone. Are you trying to keep a conversation going? Think about how to keep their attention. Will your alphabet soup turn away people because you said a bad word? Are they going to even care about what you’re saying? What is the potential for them to tune you out if you’re too long-winded (or perceived as boring/offensive)?

Tone aside, topic also matters. Again, I’m going to use age to make the easiest illustration. Most octogenarians wouldn’t give a flying fuck about your sick 360 no-scope even if jacked up on Viagra while skiing Scarface Mountain. Likewise, most teens aren’t too interested in retirement strategies. If your subject matter doesn’t seem to be in step with their potential interests, you’re going to have to be nothing short of sublime with your wording to keep their attention past your opening volley. Make no mistake, age is not the only dividing factor among audiences. It’ll serve you well to do a horrible thing called “think” before you reach out (no matter what your chosen medium of communication happens to be).

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If I may take a moment to bounce off the very bottom to highlight what comes next.

Before I sign off, let me leave you with one parting admonition.  If you have any reason to believe that your audience is smarter than you are (or they have a better grasp of the subject matter being discussed)…  by fuck, watch your ass.

Unplug.