Last weekend I did a one-day seminar on Living Dialog, based on a previous blog post of the same name. For three hours we talked about writing dialog that meets some challenging criteria. For me, “Living Dialog” has to be at once brilliantly vivid, perfectly crafted, exactly appropriate, layered and nuanced, and most of all it just needs to sound right.

Tall order, I know.

And that’s something it’ll take more than three hours or a couple of blog posts to learn. But let’s break this down to smaller components and start building some expertise.

One of the things I tend to harp on with creative writers in all media is the idea of “business.” These are the little actions that take place within a scene—specifically, things that characters do (rather than say) that don’t rise to the level of “action” but that reveal something about that character.

The example I often (if not always) cite is a moment in the movie Boogie Nights in which Scotty, played by the extraordinarily talented Philip Seymour Hoffman, is getting Mark Wahlberg (as Dirk Diggler) ready for his first big scene. Scotty has a crush on Dirk, and gets nervous and flustered around him. This comes across in the way he speaks, but also in one terrific bit of “business” that director Paul Thomas Anderson sort of makes fun of in the DVD commentary. While Scotty is walking through the set with Dirk, he’s holding a clipboard, and there’s a pen stuck on the clipboard. Between breathless lines of dialog Scotty clicks the pen open and closed with his teeth—click click click…

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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1 Response to WHAT NOT TO SAY

  1. Pingback: ANOTHER POST ON THE SUBJECT OF DIALOG? | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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