You may be angry, you may be sad, you may be livid. It might be about something that happened yesterday, or ten years ago.
Now, this can be tough, but ‘eat the cold’: look that moment in the face and plot it out as a series of events. In other words, instead of telling us how you felt, tell us what happened.
Next, step into character. Be the person who caused the most pain. What motivated him to act this way? Test out different scenarios.
What happens if you handled things differently? What have you learnt? Would you act differently next time?
Digest the emotions just as your body digests food. Get rid of the junk and keep the energy.
This is your characters’ story and if they are well-conceived, they will be consistent and in their own way, predictable. Trust them to act and react according to their own values and beliefs.
The best characters have a sense of humour. Let them have fun at your expense. Forget your carefully planned outline and hold on. It’s time for the helter-skelter. Enjoy the ride.
Conversations must hide instead of explain. Hide when you can reveal. Lie when you can tell the truth.
Allow your characters to misunderstand, to talk at cross purposes, to interrupt, to hesitate.
Direct the dialogue off stage. Call for the waiter to pay a bill, call to the bartender to order another beer. Allow the action to interrupt the flow.
Have your characters answer questions with questions. Like “Did you steal the picture?” with “What do you take me for?”
Allow your characters to talk to themselves. “What am I doing here?”
Just a few ideas to help you make your dialogue endlessly fascinating.
So you have to write a bit of dialogue. Where to start?
With the first draft, dialogue doesn't need to be subtle. Write on the nose. They say what they think regardless of consequences. Enjoy! This part can be fun. Just sit back and watch as the fireworks explode.
So what to do on the second draft? Two things. Watch what they do when they talk. The conversation isn't just about what they say; it is also about that they do. So pay attention. What do they do? Turn their back, sit down, squint?
Next, work out what they are hiding. Characters will always hide their true meaning behind their words. The subtext is important.
Learn from the masters. Watch a politician evading questions. Politicians can never be seen to be losing. Someone else is always to blame. They believe themselves to be the masters of deception. As if!
What if your story already existed? What if you were just the channel for the story to see the light of day and that all you had to do was to give up your ego and write? What if the story took shape beyond your control?
If you believed that this was true, then what do you do next?
The story world deals with the passing of time, as well as a sense of place. There are the passing of the seasons, the wear and tear and age and decay of life. No storyworld is pristine and unmarked. There are births and marriages and death. There is the rubbish that litters the street and the wars that scar the landscape.
And within each of these moments there lies a story. It may not be the story you wish to tell, but all the same, it is there waiting to be told. The photographs on the mantlepiece, the pictures on the walls, the simple things like bowls, knives, forks, plates, bed linen. All these innocent objects were chosen not by you but by the characters who inhabit these worlds, bringing alive the blank canvas of your mind.
Look for stories in newspapers and magazines. What grabs your attention? Look for the obstacles. What gets in the way?
Many stories might seem boring and mundane. Don’t just throw them out.
Play around and see if you can find a way of reframing the story to make it funny or frightening.
Never go against your beliefs. Pursue your ambitions with passion – not for thirty minutes, not thirty days, but for thirty years. And each day you will succeed. It is about being consistent. It is about getting up each time you are knocked down, again, again, again. Remember – if at first, you don’t succeed, you are running on average.
Don’t see every problem as a nail and every solution a hammer. Be flexible.
Practice your writing, build your experience and in the end, you will succeed.
When writing dialogue, challenge yourself to let your characters speak for themselves, in any way they must.
Find ways to free yourself up. Write their words on paper using different pens for different characters – just as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn used to do - the elegant fountain pen for one character, the chewed Bic for another.
After you’ve given your characters a chance to empty themselves, cut and trim, combine, or pick a line or two that says it all. Often what people really mean is not what they say. Look for that tension. And remember, what people don’t say is often far more powerful than what they do say.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote longhand with a large collection of pens scattered liberally across his writing desk. He said 'Each of my pens is an individual with a personality of its own. I don't write with just one. When I'm using one of them, others are involved too. So I use different types of pens for different tasks and to emphasise different thoughts and nuances - thin or thick ones, this colour or that. And I know what each one is for. That's why my table's so cluttered. In fact, each pen is at work.'