Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dialogue . . .

. . . as a beginning! Yes, a beginning. Yesterday I linked to Nicola Morgan's blog and her post about beginnings. If you haven't checked it out, do so now, and check out the comments, which have provided the inspiration for this post.

One commenter asked about starting a book with (gasp, the horrors, shudder, somebody get the smelling salts) . . . dialogue. Nicola's response is below:

Sam - I'm delighted you asked that question, actually. First, I had vaguely heard that unpubbed writers worried about this but I have no idea where it came from. I have never, in all my conversations with dozens/hundreds of novelists, heard anyone say it or discuss it. It would, frankly, be beneath our dignity to make or stick to such a ridiculous rule. rules must have reasons and this has none (except see the end of this comment.)

If you want one single example of why this rule simply cannot be taken seriously, look no further than the first line of one of the most successful AND respected contemporary novels of our time, Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses. I could find more but I can't be bothered!

The only conceivable reasons to avoid dialogue as your first sentence are a) that it's difficult to do well and b) that it's difficult to convey enough of the tone etc of the whole story. But that latter reason doesn't really hold, because you're going to go on to do that in the following sentences.

So, definitely a rule to ignore! If dialogue IS the best way to start your story, it is.

The above italicized section is from Nicola Morgan's blog: Help! I Need A Publisher! and was gleaned from the comments section of this post.

Now, for my enlightened thoughts on the subject matter: Hooray for Nicola!!

I've always thought that the right piece of dialogue could be the best start to a novel. Okay, haven't always thought that, but it sounded good as I was blithely typing along.

"Oh, dear, so sorry I shot you three times in the chest, it really was an accident." Marie casually wiped her fingerprints off the gun and stepped over her husband's dead body.

or . . .

"You're not George Bailey, and this isn't A Wonderful Life."

or . . .

Well the examples from my depraved mind could go on and on. The thing with dialogue as a beginning is it has to be done right and set the tone of the novel. A bland, pithy (don't ask, it just sounded right, and I've been using the word a lot lately) piece of dialogue just isn't going to cut it.

So, have you ever opened your novels of brilliance with dialogue? Did you keep the dialogue through the various revision stages? Care to share your brilliant dialogue that set the tone of the novel?

And, now to Work in Progress Wednesday . . . I've been mulling over three ideas for the last month or so, and just couldn't decide which one I wanted to delve into as my new writing project for 2010. In an effort to be fair to all three children of my supreme brilliance (sorry, a bit more snarky than usual today - sincerest apologies), I've been working on all three projects in the hopes that one would sprint forward ahead of the others. Well, one did, and I'm happy to report that in the past few days I've . . .
  • Begun and Completed the Rough of Part I
  • Started Part II
  • Written 12, 500 words!

Can I hear a big WOO-HOO!!!!

I don't know why this project, versus the others, has taken the lead in my imagination. It just has, I'm not complaining, and I'm just going with the flow of words. Everything is just falling into place with this project, though I can hear the others breathing heavily (no, they're not making obscene phone calls) in my mind, trying to catch up to the project in the lead. They're determined, those wonderful little projects not content to wait in the wings of the darkness of my mind!



Charlie said...

"'You stole my story,' the man on the step said. 'You stole my story and something's got to done about it. Right is right and fair is fair and something has to be done.'" --Stephen King

If he could do it...

Ann Elle Altman said...

A wrote a novel with only dialog and people seemed to like it.
I think because often novels are written in first person, which is internal 'dialog' rules shouldn't be made.
Suggestions and preferences maybe...but not rules.


Davin Malasarn said...

I'm glad one project is taking the lead, Scott. I'm still trying to pick mine, and that's annoying.

And, THANKS for mentioning this about starting with dialog. I've always thought that "rule" seemed really random because I can't come up with any logical 'splanation for it. I've always wanted to completely ignore it, but I felt unjustified until I figured out the meaning behind it.

Hilabeans said...


I love dialogue openers. It throws you into the scene without the weight of a bunch of exposition. Anything to not start with the weather, right?

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

Great post!

Elana Johnson said...

That is a lot of words! Congrats on that.

And I've never started a story with dialog -- yet. But if I needed to, I totally could. I'm all about breaking the rules. ;-)

Bethany Wiggins said...

Follow your heart in everything you write!!!

Robyn Campbell said...

So. You are trying to change the way I have learned to think all this time?? What?

I mean! I never!

I have been conditioned to NEVER use dialogue to start a book. "It just ain't done," they said.

Now I find out that it's okay to do this? *shudder*

I will have to recondition myself and that could take years of psychiatric help. Gee thanks. :-)

Robyn Campbell said...

Oh and glad that you have a project goin' on. That's great. :-)

Scott said...

Whoa! I go off to see Avatar - Imax 3 D - and the comments flood in!

Charlie - I think Stephen King can do whatever he wants. I wouldn't want him to send Pennywhistle the Clown after me!

Ann - I think it all boils down to the right dialogue, and snappy banter between the characters. Hmmm, I think I did a post about that once.

Davin - I wasn't sure any project was going to take off, but one did, and I'm happy. Also, you're welcome. I try to pass on the useful pieces of advices I find in the blogsphere.

Hilabeans - I agree completely. Sometimes, the dialogue shows more about the character than anything else.

Elana - Thanks. And I know you're all about breaking the rules. You're such the rebel.

Bethany - great advice.

Robyn - my main goal in life is to shake yours up . . . just a bit!! Ha!

Jemi Fraser said...

I think it's another one of those rules. If you know them, understand them and use them very well, you're allowed to break them. After all, if it works, it works!

Paul Michael Murphy said...

I like to start every one of my stories with my main character looking into a mirror and describing himself.

Because who doesn't think that's awesome, right?

Scott said...

Jemi - you're right. I think all rules are made to be broken . . . just not in an overwhelming fashion that is going to send an agent to an insane asylum! Everything in moderation . . . including adjectives and dialogue as a novel opening!

Paul - it's, like, totally awesome. I mean, I do the same thing every morning. Don't you?? Doesn't everyone?? : )

Jody Hedlund said...

Interesting thoughts on dialogue at the beginning, Scott. I think what it boils down to is that the opening line needs to hook the reader. If dialogue does the job, then more power to it.

And great job on getting the WIP going! Now stay at it!! ;-)

tsuchigari said...

Rules? There are rules to this whole writing thing? Dang. My rule is "do it, and do it well"

Litgirl01 said...

My mission - find Scott's blog and agree with whatever he says!!!

Mission accomplished! ;-)

And it took forever! Five days and no post!!!

All kidding aside...this is a great post! Dialogue is so tough to make believable.

Miss ya!!

Jen said...

I think if you can use dialogue at the beginning that is brilliant! I myself have never quite gone that direction, however you have excellent beginning from what I can see! Bold Move but well worth the pay off. A lot of the books I read have beautifully dialogued beginnings!

Good Luck!

Michelle McLean said...

I LOVE this post :D I have made the unpardonable (so I've been told) mistake of starting a book with dialogue. I liked it. And it doesn't bother me in the slightest when other people do it.

I think this, as with most things, is a matter of taste. Some people (including agents and editors) will like it and some won't. You can't please everyone so I say (since we are the writers and it is, after all, OUR story) just please yourself :) If it works for your story, go for it :)