Ping Pong Dialogue

This post was inspired by an article by Emma Darwin on her blog The Itch of Writing covering dialogue between two or more people which goes back and forth.(

My interest was arroused because my new novel contains quite a lot of dialogue between the various characters in which ideas and emotions are batted from one person to another. One difficulty of such a dialogue is remembering who is saying what. A way of dealing with this is to have the speakers talk in slightly different ways so that it is clear to the reader who is speaking. However, in real life individuals generally either adopt a consensual way of speaking or one person falls in line with the register and vocabulary of the other. It can get really dreary having to type he said / she said all the time. This could solve one problem. Emma Darwin’s solution is to include some action, motion or emotion in the dialogue to bring the ping pong nature of the conversastion up a little. This seems to be a good solution to the problem as it allows the writer to show the reader the accompanying motions etc to go with the dialogue.

By including actions such as stirring a cup of coffee, the writer gets away from the narrative literalism of the dialogue. Including the action to go with the speech will allow the writer to define what parts of the dialogue are actually important to the scene and sense of story. It could then be possible to reduce the actual dialogue since the action / motion will be used to replace it.

To give an example of how this would work in practice:

“Where are you going?” Robert asked.

“To the cinema. Why?” replied Mary.

“I just want to know where you are going.” he said.

“What’s it got to do with you?” she asked.

With action/motion:

“Where are you going?” asked Robert looking up from the evening paper.

“To the cinema,” replied Mary putting on her coat and scarf. “Why?”

Robert put the paper down and look round at Mary. “I just want to know where you are going?”

“What’s it got to do with you?” shouted Mary as she opened the door.

How to beat writer’s block

Many of my readers will have experienced “writer’s block” at some stage. They will have found themselves struggling for ideas, become in awe of the task they have set themselves, become overwhelmed by the burden of writing and talking about writing and thought they could no longer keep writing. There are ways, though, of getting through this and on to the next phase.

  • Watch films and pay attention to plots and dialogue
  • Read books and analyse the plot structure 
  • Read an inspiring writing guide to get ideas for new writing or rewriting 
  • Go somewhere new and write a description of the place
  • Get on a bus or sit in a coffee, listen to the conversations around you then turn it into a mini scene
  • Join a writing group and read about / talk about other people’s writing
  • Read some of the author interviews in The Paris Review to get inspiration
  • Revisit favourite books and take some time out to refresh your brain
  • Get some exercise and fresh air to the brain
  • Keep a blog so you will be forced to write
  • Keep an eye on the news – you next plot twist might be there
  • Never give up.

A lot of these ideas work for me. In addition, I find sitting in a writing space with other writers just getting on with it helps. 

Why good stories don’t always turn into good films

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the cinema twice in order to see two very different kinds of film. The first film was “The Theory of Everything” and the second was the “Second Best Great Marigold Hotel.”

I was wary of watching The Theory of Everything having watching The Imitation Game, which was so loosely attached to historical fact as to be around 90% fiction. It was an enjoyable film but a very poor representation of the life it was supposed to be based on. Alan Turing’s life warranted a so much better film. With this in mind, I went to see TTOE. It is true to say that I understand very little science and know very little of the life of Stephen Hawking – he is disabled, has a voice box and wrote a difficult book. The film was based on the book and, in my mind, did not appear to deviate from realism. I understand from the reviews that it was a fairly good representation of the great man’s life and the book his first wife wrote about. I had also toyed with watching Testament of Youth but I read the book as a teenager and saw the television adaptation so I decided that a fictionalised version of the book was not for me.

It is hard to capture the spirit of a long book in a short film which relies on image rather than the printed word. However, I cannot find any excuse for just making up events, changing the truth about events or even changing the location of events. If the story stands up, the film should be as representative of it as possible. If not, then the screenwriters etc should come up with their own ideas.

On a windy Saturday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours watching Marigold. The first film was funny though I got really tired of the Indian hotel owner character. It was a joke which went on far too long. The same joke was running in the sequel. By the time we got to the second half I had pretty much given up watching a lot of it. What on earth were those wonderful actors doing in that rubbish? I haven’t read the original book but friends who have tell me it is wonderful. Having seen the films, though, I don’t feel inclined to read the book, which is sad.

I always hope that a film inspires viewers to read a book not avoid it.