I am intimidated by writing dialogue. Probably because of a combination of not having it as a natural strength, not being a great listener and not having written much of it.

This week in Stanford.edu W123, we covered dialogue. Armed with some good instruction and writing prompts (Jeff O’Keefe is a great teacher), I set out to face my fears and ended up writing more this week than I have in years. Most of what I wrote was embarrassing (think high school poetry). Also, I only got 4-6 hours of sleep most nights because I stayed up late either staring at a blank screen or writing stuff that ended up being pretty flat.

There were three pieces which didn’t suck, so I’ll post two or three of them here this week. Here’s the exercise which served as the inspiration for today’s post: Write a 500-word scene that is entirely in direct dialogue. Have one character try to get something from another character (for example, a son begging his father to buy him a baseball glove) but create a clear subtext (i.e., the son really wants his father’s love and approval).


Got a minute, Harry? I need to talk to you.

Sure. What’s up?

Can I close the door?

This must be serious. What’s on your mind, Wallace?

It… Well, remember when I told you at my review last year that I was writing a book?

I remember. Are you done with it?

No, that’s why I wanted to talk to you.

What’s the book about?

I don’t know yet, I haven’t started it.

You’ve been thinking about it a long time. Do you have any ideas?

I have some ideas, kind of. I need to… I’m having a hard time getting started because of how busy I am and working here and having a wife and all.

It must be the hand of God brought you in here to talk about this today. I was just thinking about that conversation last night. Listen, I might have a win-win proposition for you. My wife is the only one who knows this, but I’ve been trying to write a book for a while now too.


Yeah, a book about how I started this business by working evenings and weekends for two years while I was at the tire plant. How Georgie and me put it all on the line to quit our jobs and chase our dreams. How there were nights we put our babies to bed hungry and ten years later became the number one tire distributor in Northwestern Pennsylvania. It’s called “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”.

I’m, you know, sure that would be a cool book.

Well, therein lies the rub. The problem is I’m not a good writer. I get in a few paragraphs here and a few sentences there, but it doesn’t pop.

Doesn’t pop?

Right. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

I… yeah, believe me I know. That’s why I wanted to talk to you.

Don’t you want to hear about the win-win? Listen, you want to write a book but you don’t have an idea.

I didn’t say that.

You did. You want to write a book but you’re firing blanks, can’t get wind in the sails. I got wind. I got a crapload of stories that’ll give you that same feeling you get when you hear a plane full of people clap for a soldier who’s coming home from the war. I got a great title. Wallace, I want you to write it for me. You write great around here and I hear your blog is hilarious.

Hilarious? Who told you that? Harry, that isn’t quite what –

Here’s the win for you. I was thinking about our chat because yesterday a publisher came to have breakfast with me and my agent.

You have an agent?

You want to get published? I got a publisher. You want people to read your stuff? They told me this sucker could get picked up by Wal-Mart. Do you know how many people buy books at Wal-Mart? I’m willing to give you a 10% cut and full access to me and Georgie.