Other Cool Vlogs: Writer Brandon McNulty

In April I struggled with several flashes and ended up rewriting them. I know, I know, that is not how flashes work – it is write and done, yes? But the story or scene just didn’t work. They were passive, telling, not showing. The dialogue fell flat. They were a mess.

In particular, I rewrote two of the four flashes for the Under Contract Series.

N is for Noise (4/16/2023) seemed okay as is.
Q is for Quicken (4/19/2023) mostly stayed as is, just needed brightening. A quick rewrite.
Y is for Yield (4/28/2023) got burned to the ground and totally rewritten.
Z is for Zzzz (4/30/2023) needs to be burned to the ground and redone, but I haven’t done that yet. I was tired of rewriting and realized that this particular series will not go on to bigger things. I decided to leave it as is because it does present all the bits of the scene I wanted. It just didn’t have any umph.

After rewriting them, I ran across Writer Brandon McNulty vlogs on dialogue and what was the ACTUAL problem I was struggling with in April got revealed. Dialogue – I was writing bad dialogue and when I fixed things, they became good dialogue.

Mr. McNulty defines Good Dialog as

  1. Natural – Sounds natural to the character, scene, and world.
  2. Conflict – Attacks or defends
  3. Subtext – Expresses unspoken meaning

In his first Round (video below), he defines five examples of bad dialogue …. but also gives an example of when “bad” can be done well.

  1. On the nose – States the obvious; baldly states thoughts or feelings; no mystery, subtlety, or subtext.
  2. Melodrama!!!
  3. As you know Bob (I have covered this in my editing rants and writing exercises before)
  4. Forced poetry (I usually call this purple prose)
  5. Wooden Dialogue – Too formal; unnatural; on the nose.

In his second Round (video below), he gives five more examples of bad dialogue and how they could be fixed.

  1. Name calling
  2. Preachy dialogue
  3. Filler Dialog
  4. Relentlessly Repeated Phrases
  5. Clunky Comebacks

Now, all the examples he gives are spoken in movies or in video games instead of reading aloud examples from books. He is using the video medium, so pictures and speaking are the best for the format, but the examples do translate well into writing.

Let’s examine Y is for Yield (4/28/2023) and Z is for Zzzz (4/30/2023), the extensive rewrite and the one that NEEDS FIXING.

How Y is for Yield got fixed mostly is I added Conflict, one of the marks of good dialogue, and I made it more natural. It was already pretty natural, but there wasn’t really a conflict. If you read it, you might think “where is the conflict?” because the two aren’t actually arguing. They are just talking as people do. But Malcolm is a teen and while he wants to talk about his day, he also doesn’t want to talk about his day. Abby understands this and gently pries the information out of him that he wants to share. She makes him face a hard truth about himself, and then puts him in the position of having to report all of this to his mother. There actually is a lot of subtext happening; Malcolm is in his last year of high school and is facing a lot of changes in his life and needs to sort them out. Abby is being a sounding board, a very active sounding board in that she is making him talk. The conflict is internal to Malcolm, but being shown through his conversation with Abby.

I’m actually very proud of the final product I came up with there in the second try at that flash.

Z is for Zzzz hasn’t been fixed. Nearly all the words exchanged are FILLER dialogue, very clique. And the entire thing is WOODEN – some of the things Abby says is Unnatural to her manner of talking. Overall, the dialogue is way too formulaic. There is absolutely no conflict, internal or external, and no subtext. I break all the Good Dialogue rules and click off the boxes for several of the bad dialogue lists.

At least, the flash now serves a purpose: “If you can’t be a good example, be a bad one.” And Z is for Zzzz certainly meets being a bad example.

Under Contract was interesting to write in that each of the flashes is from a different POV. If I ever rewrote Z is for Zzzz, the conflict would be internal again – this time for Jonathan. I would make it much more of a ghost story, expanding on the scare atmosphere and maybe even leave a lingering fear in the Normal Man of the supernatural he has to live with. Except I really don’t like that twist for this family story. I don’t want to create internal conflict between the house dwellers. Which is one of the reasons this scene will never be rewritten. I can’t do it to make it a good scene and still have the story be the one I’m trying to tell. Yet this scene is essential to the overall story.

The Under Contract series was initial worldbuilding to see if I have a broad enough story and thick enough plot. In this case I don’t.

But it did give me a better feel about writing dialogue. A good lesson.

Please watch the videos, they are really helpful.

Bad Dialogue vs Good Dialogue Round 1

Bad Dialogue vs Good Dialogue Round 2

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