It’s so true!
Think about it. Even when you’re with your nearest and dearest, you do it. (Otherwise, we’d all be saying things like, “Do we have to? Your mother/sister/auntie Doreen bores me to death!” or “Oh, are you back already?”).
When we’re writing dialogue, it’s worth remembering that most people don’t say what they’re really thinking, most of the time.
Let me give you an example:
I was at the swimming pool earlier this week and I deliberately chose a changing cubicle next to a chatty woman (whom I shall call ‘Linda’*) because I thought I might overhear something interesting.
She was talking to another woman – her friend, presumably, whom I shall call ‘Daphne’* – in the next cubicle along and the conversation went like this:
Daphne: Linda? Er… just out of interest, do you rent out your caravan?
Linda: (coldly) Yes, we do.
Daphne: Oh, right. (Pause) Erm… and do you still go to it yourself?
Linda: Well, we didn’t go much last year because Mike was ill and we haven’t been this year yet because there’s so much else to do. We’re renovating the cottage in Cornwall and we’re going on a cruise in April.
Daphne: Oh, really? Lovely! Where are you going?
There then ensued a long and complicated tale of where Linda and Mike were going on their cruise (the Med, incase you’re interested), the terrible problems they’d had getting insurance cover, because Mike had been ill.. and so on.
Never again (or at least, not in the time it took me to get dressed and pack my stuff away), was The Caravan mentioned but it was perfectly clear to me that a) Daphne was interested in going to the caravan and b) Linda had no intention of letting her.
Why didn’t Linda just say ‘No, we don’t rent it out’? Or ‘We do rent it out but only to family.’? Because, if she’d been happy to rent the caravan to Daphne, surely she’d have said,”Yes, we do! Are you interested?” So, she just pretended not to get the hint. And, clearly, Daphne had got the message that this wasn’t something to be pursued, so had happily engaged in the change of subject (when what she really wanted to say was probably, “Would you rent your caravan to me?” or – more confrontationally – “Is my money not good enough for you?!”).
When we’re writing dialogue, what’s NOT said is as important as what is said.
I am still worrying about Daphne. Maybe she’s a single mum and a trip to a caravan – particularly if she thought she’d be getting ‘mates’ rates’ – is all she can afford.
LINDA – (who’s not actually called Linda) – if you’re reading this and you recognise yourself, don’t be a meanie! (After all, you’ve got your cruise and your cottage in Cornwall! How many holidays does one person need?). LET DAPHNE GO TO THE CARAVAN!
(But, on the other hand, perhaps someone else rented their caravan to Daphne one year and she trashed the place? There are, as they say, two sides to every story).
*Names have been changed to protect the ‘innocent’.
Talking of stories, the Writers & Artists’ short story competition results are now up on the website.
I really love the winning story, ‘The Colour Forty’ by Lucy Grace.
It does all the things that, I think, a ‘literary’ short story (ie: the kind that win short story competitions), should do:
1. Has an intriguing title
2. Sets up a mystery/question right at the start, which isn’t answered until the end of the story.
3. Beautiful writing
4. A main character that you’re rooting for
5. Lots of ‘space’ for the reader to fill in the gaps: it doesn’t tell us what or how to feel.
6. It left me thinking about it, long after I’d finished it
Read it yourself here and see what you think. The runners-up are on there too although I haven’t had time to read those yet.