Did you ever slip into bed, completely exhausted, certain you’ll zonk off with your head halfway to the pillow? Did you then find you were interrupted by the checklist in your head? Here’s mine: Is the coffeemaker set for the morning? Did I make a sandwich for Walt’s lunch? Are the porch windows closed? Did I make a note to send out the writers’ group meeting reminder? Once I’ve reassured myself, or gone back to check everything, I can rest. Sometimes.
When everything else has been tended to, I may find the characters in my head decide to spring awake with some chatter of their own that won’t wait until morning. Pillow talk, tense confrontations with great solutions, expressions of fear, hopes, or a new plot twist come rushing in. I reach for the notepad in the nightstand. Many times, ideas stewing in my subconscious all day surface in that quiet time, that alpha state between sleep and wakefulness. This frequently happened when I was writing Deja Vu Dream, in which tragedy brings two people together but returns to alter their lives.
In Deja Vu Dream, I wrote dialogue between Don and Sarah Summers and their daughters as they discussed the merits of a possible site on which to build their home. Following the decision to purchase the property, is a summation of Sarah’s attempts to coordinate the project that led to further strain her relationship with Don. It was unnecessary then for Sarah to have endless conversations with architects, contractors and decorators for me to give a clear picture of the character. The summation gives a hint to the deeper problems behind her self-centeredness, inability to tend to details, or follow through on a project.
Beginning authors often use autobiographical material in patterning their characters. However, what was dialogue from real life may fall as fast and as flat as bad-guys’ tires when police throw spike strips in their paths. Once, on a dialogue-fishing trip, I sat in a donut shop and made notes.
I heard a number of New York accents, some Spanglish, and a few Conchs. Residents of Key West, I mean. Marine gastropod molluscs don’t talk. Which makes me wonder how they get dates, but weird wondering (creative thinking?) is another of my idiosyncrasies. The actual conversations of the donut dunkers were banal bantering: the weather, sports, local news, that served no real purpose other than neighborliness. This talk didn’t serve a plot because there was none.
And, oh, dear Lord, the one-sided cell phone conversations were deadly. I could feel brain cells dying from the vibrations hitting my ear drums: “Why?”… “Well, how come?”… “So where did you go?”…”How come?”…”What did he say?”… “What did you say?” Had enough? Then don’t ever write like conversations you hear in the donut shop! Cut your computer cords, or your wrists, but spare us!
Did you watch Nik Wallenda’s recent skywalk in downtown Sarasota, Florida? A lift took him to a platform atop a crane. From there, he stepped onto a cable suspended 200 feet above busy US 41, and, despite windy conditions, walked 500 feet or so without a harness across to Marina Tower condos. This daredevil’s preparedness impressed me. He knows the feel of that 42-foot-long, 45-pound balance pole and the wire beneath his feet. He’s researched, he’s practiced, and lived his work. Nik’s got his act together. Really. No cliche!
So go impress me. Read up on dialogue and go for the high wire!