#4 “Yes” can be boring

There’s a dialogue technique that first made a conscious impression on me through television (of course, fellow novelists, “the book is always better”—but I can’t change history): indicating agreement or disagreement without using a common “yes” or “no”. Recollection #1 (credit American Horror Story): Accusation: “You’ve been drugging my coffee every morning!” Reply: “Prove it.” Recollection #2 (credit Lena Dunham): Suggestion: “We should swap shirts!” Reply: “You’re a mind reader.”

It would have been easy to write replies of “yes,” “no,” or “OK” —easy and so forgettable.  But we learn so much more about the responding character with just a few extra words, what kind of person they are, what they’ve been thinking, what they think about the other character.

The synonyms readily available on the internet certainly serve their purpose, as do the occasional “No.” then “No!” then “Never!”, and even the well-placed “Please.” And oftentimes the simple reply is best. But overlooked are the opportunities to go further, restructure the dialogue to pack more into the affirmations and rejections. Below I’ve isolated some techniques from Righteous Judgment:

Name calling/confrontation: Not “We’re safe” … “No we’re not, that could’ve tipped him off.” Instead “We’re safe” … “Idiot! That could’ve tipped him off.”

Explanation/justification: Not “Can’t I go alone?” … “No.” Instead “Can’t I go alone?” … “Too much at stake.”

Repetition: Not “Shred and burn those when you’re done” … “OK.” Instead “Shred and burn those when you’re done” … “Shred and burn.”

Generalize: “Release a hostage and we’ll keep the lights on” … “I don’t make concessions for lights”

Ignore: “Release a hostage and we’ll keep the lights on” … “Now you have only twenty-nine minutes to meet my demands.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s