Rule #2 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #2

2: Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

This is one of those things that I read and said to myself “huh-wha?”  It seemed like a jumble of words that should be important, if I knew what he was trying to say.  Here’s my take on it, after doing a little research and thinking it over.

This is what I came up with.  Let’s take a look at some dialog. I’m going to take out movement and emotion so we can just look at the dialog, and see how it works.

“Helen, I’m home.”

“Hello, George. How was work?”

“Oh just dandy.  Martin was out, so I had to take care of all his problems and got to none of my own work.”

“I’m sorry to hear that dear. What would you like for dinner?”

“Pizza is fine.”

“Okay, I’ll place the order.”

“I went shopping today.”

“Yeah, what’d you buy?”

“Milk and eggs.”

“Good.  I like milk and eggs”

“You know what? We need to talk about Billy.  He turned into a velociraptor today, and he ate three of his classmates.”



Okay – don’t judge me.  I’m trying to make a point.  There is a lot of day-to day babble in here that is really unnecessary, right?  The only important thing is that Billy turned into a dinosaur.

Conflict needs to be evident in every scene.  Don’t just have people talking about nothing just to kill time.  Each scene, and each bit of dialog needs to move the story forward.  I mean seriously.  Do we need to know that Mommy picked up milk and eggs?

Look for your dialog to be concise and to the point.  Give it the impression of being longer, without actually boring your reader with the babble.

Make sure each scene has a start, conflict, and resolution.  Each one of these miniature stories needs to draw your characters further along in the story. If it doesn’t move the story forward, no matter how much you love the scene, it’s time to take out the hatchet.

How often do you find your characters babbling with no forward movement in a scene?  What did you do to rein your dialog in?




22 responses to “Rule #2 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

  1. Awesome writing tips. Thanks!

  2. Much as I hate conflict in real life, I can see how this would make a novel more powerful. 🙂

  3. Might I sound…never mind. You mean someone can actually compete with Dan Brown? Not the story, the pace? It’s so tiring….

  4. You say that each scene has to contain resolution to the conflict…but what about when you want to intentionally leave the reader hanging? My writing contains a lot of that.

    • Hey! You are a blonde! Oh, anyway… Your scene should still have conflict and move the story forward … Just that little snippet remains a mystery.

      • Yes…been a blond for a few months now…that’s why I realized that I needed new pics because I don’t look like any of my online pics anymore. And I think I know what you mean…I believe I do that. “-)

  5. This is an excellent series you’re putting together! When I started writing, like many newbies, I wrote excruciatingly precise dialogue. Ouch, ouch, ouch! Now, it’s cut to the chase and keep it pertinent. Now it’s time for me to work on the conflict in every scene….

  6. Thanks again, Jenn.

  7. I think the most interesting dialogue is full of conflict.

    On the other hands, sometimes it’s what the character won’t say as much as what she does say. I know you took out the action tags to make a point, but they are crucial to a dialogue scene. I picture someone who says everything is fine but is digging her fingernails into the palms of her hands. Boring dialogue can be transformed by action tags. 🙂

    • Oh, definitely true, but here I’m just talking about moving the story forward with what is said. The actions inside the dialog can sometimes say TONS. You are totally right on that.

  8. I like having my characters not quite listen and not quite respond to each other’s questions/statements. Each has an agenda they’re pushing, so they respond to what they think the other isn’t saying. Or perhaps, they don’t even register what the other is saying, intent on pressing their own point. Can’t always do this, of course, but it makes for interesting, and telling dialogue when it’s appropriate.

    • Sounds interesting. You don’t worry about confusing the reader?

      • I don’t make it too obtuse, and I don’t use it all the time. Just when characters have reasons to be working at cross purposes. I’ve got a post called “Dialogue Me, Baby” that gives a silly example of two women talking about the same thing, or maybe not. It depends on the context. I’ll look through some of my work and try to find a brief example.

        • Cool. 😉 like to see it in action.

          • I’m short on time before I have to go pick up my son, so I just wrote this little snippet. It’s not great literature, but maybe it will give you an idea about what I mean. Here it is:

            Millie walks in the door. Henry, the teenage son reading a book on the couch, doesn’t bother to look up.
            “Ahhh, feels good to be home,” Millie says and tosses her briefcase on the floor.
            Allen, holding a skillet like a hammer, blows in from the kitchen.
            “Eggs, all I ask in life is to find things where I put them!”
            “Henry, would it kill you to say ‘hi’ to your mom?” says Millie.
            “Dad’s on a tear,” says Henry, still engrossed in his book.
            “Don’t you have homework to do?” says Allen and then demands, “Did you eat all the eggs or are there more in the garage fridge?”
            “Every night I come home to drama,” says Millie. “Why can’t you people get along?”
            “If you’d stop chugging wine while you’re cooking, Dad, maybe you’d be able to find the eggs,” says Henry.

  9. Julie Catherine

    Awesome post, Jennifer – things to keep in mind as I work on the dialogue in my own novel, thank you! 🙂

  10. Well, the buying of eggs could be important, especially if there is an unknown dino in the house. Maybe she just bought eggs and they’re all gone but she didn’t know where they went. now that Billy’s turned into a meat-eating dino, she can understand where the eggs went. Just sayin’. 🙂

  11. … a lot like hunting the Snark!