Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"...workmanlike dialogue..."

Ugh. "Workmanlike." I hate this criticism. Not that I get it a lot, but I hate it when I see it, even referring to other writers, mostly because I think it's an ambiguous reference to the real problem: This is dialogue that moves the plot forward, or explains what the characters are doing or why, but isn't funny, insightful, interesting, or otherwise deserving of a +1. "Workmanlike" tells you that you need to use different words to say the same thing, but the real problem is frequently that the dialogue focuses on the wrong aspect of what the characters are up to. To wit:

Last night I wrote a scene where two characters improvise a plan to rescue their companion from the bad guys. When I started, they said things like, "Hand me that [object]," and "Okay, here's the plan," and so forth. Lucky for me, I realized that this was stupid and boring and most of all, lazy.

So instead I left the description of what they were doing in the descriptive text, and kept it short. "Frank throws a wrench to Joe," that kind of thing. I rewrote the dialogue into (presumably) witty banter that was only obliquely related to what they were physically doing. As I recall they argued about whether or not they were doomed. Fun!