Writing An Executive's Dialogue
Previous entries in this series are here:
All the 10 previous parts are there.
One epic fail new writers experience when presenting a story that really grabs them is a disparity between what they tell the reader about a Character and what the Character seems to be to the reader.
We all have different experiences of "life" at different ages. As we meet and work with different people, we get an idea of "who" a person is by "how" they talk.
Writing dialogue is nothing like transcribing real speech. Dialogue, every line and every word or grunt, must propel the plot -- create an Event -- to which other Characters react, or which creates consequences.
In Mystery as in Romance, and even Science Fiction/Paranormal genres, one powerful plot driver is all about who knows what, and when they know it.
Who does not know what?
Who understands the connections among what they know -- and who doesn't.
Maybe most important, who can "fake it" until they "make it."
Getting a promotion, for example, often involves concealing what you don't know, then going out and frenetically learning it.
If you read fanfic, especially adventure fanfic, or space adventure-drama like Star Trek, you will have to write dialogue for a Ship's Captain, an Admiral, or even a Lieutenant who is in charge of some Ensigns.
What distinguishes the ranks -- and what tags a Character as ripe for promotion?
It's very simple -- but hard to create if you, yourself, do not have these traits.
Here is a way to acquire the speech habits of Captains and Admirals, of Corporation Heads, Planetary Governors, etc -- cocktail party conversation that moves the plot, depicts the top level a Character will be considered eligible for, and conveys reams and reams of exposition without any lumps and without disguising exposition as dialogue.
Remember, I pointed to an epic fail of expository lump in a previous post when discussing the Best Seller contrasted with a fun read.
So how do you craft dialogue to do all these things?
The process -- as opposed to the end result -- is by successive approximations.
You just write out the conversation as the Characters yell at each other -- write down all of it.
Then you edit out the kernal, the central operating system that runs all the "programs" you have to run to get the reader to know everything you want them to know.
Dissect out the central plot moving dynamic of the conversation.
Then carefully add back in, layer by layer, each objective for this scene.
Dialogue is the best tool for Characterization, but it works only if the two (or more) people conversing are sparring, jousting, jockeying for position (social or competitive). One-upsmanship is a great tool.
So whether you're doing a Victorian Paranormal Romance, or a formal Conference of two Interstellar Civilizations in a War of Extinction, Dialogue is a potent plot tool because it can "show don't tell" motivations.
But along the way, even if your Main Character is on the wait-staff, you will have to craft dialogue for Movers And Shakers -- people who have worked their way up to top decision makers. You have maybe two paragraphs to convince the reader this Character really is a top executive of his/her/its species.
How do you do that?
Here is an Article that explains, succinctly, just what your Reader will believe is the hallmark of a top executive (or someone on the way up that ladder, for sure).
I taught Andrew a technique called PREP, which he reported back to me, worked wonderfully.
It stands for Point, Reason, Example, Point, and it's a great tool to help you structure an impromptu speech or to answer a tough question when you're put on the spot.
This is how it works. Think of a situation where you might be required to defend your position or argue your point of view on a critical issue. This might be at your next executive meeting or perhaps in front of a potential client. Or at that next dinner party.
To illustrate, let's take an extreme example.
Suppose you're attending your next executive meeting and the CEO puts you on the spot, singling you out, she asks:
‘So, what's your view on how we're functioning as a team?'
If ever there was a question guaranteed to provoke an emotional response, this is it. It would be easy to become defensive and evasive in this situation, but that's not how a top executive would respond.
This is where having the structure of PREP to fall back on can help.
Note –before responding, pause and count to two. We sound ill-considered when we rush straight in. By pausing for two seconds you will sound more considered and it'll give you the thinking space to provide a concise and structured response using the PREP approach.
Point: "I think there is room for us to improve."
Reason: "The reason I say this is I feel we are tending to operate in silos and this is impacting our ability to cross-market and to service our clients effectively. It is also affecting our ability to communicate a consistent message to the business."
Example: [Provide one and preferably two relevant examples to illustrate your point.]
Point: "So, on that basis, no I don't believe we are operating effectively as a team right now. I think we have room to improve."
PREP allows you to deliver a mature and reasoned approach, which relies on facts not emotion. Others might not agree with you but you've delivered a mature and reasoned response befitting of an executive.
You should read the whole article if it's still available, or look up that technique.
Reading books advising executives how to behave and how to speak, how to do a Powerpoint, etc., will help you evoke the image of such a person with any Character.
But this simplification is an wonderful clue how to let your Characters "overhear" something that will motivate them to move the plot while letting the Reader figure out what is really going on that various Characters don't (yet) know about -- i.e. you create suspense! With Dialogue - the most versatile tool in your craft tool box.
Note where the speech pattern inserts "example" -- it is inside that example that you hide your exposition, which has to be OFF THE NOSE.
In other words, you don't just say what you want the reader to figure out, you "code" the information so that the Reader can figure it out.
People believe what they figure out for themselves, not what they are told -- well, maybe not people in general, but I guarantee this is true of inveterate Science Fiction readers, and the modern Romance reader.
Here is the dialogue post on OFF THE NOSE. This is "the nose" as in "hit you right in the nose" -- or force an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with an inconvenient truth. Fiction works better when it sneaks up from the blind side, or hits in the back of the head (or the gut).
"On The Nose" is for nonfiction (which you might have to craft in the course of a novel), but fiction is about the emotional nuances that color our comprehension of facts -- so off the nose is the technique to master.
So, learn this PREP structure to keep your exposition off the nose, AND at the same time, depict Characters headed for the top of their professions (which makes a guy very sexy, you know.)