By Writing Excuses | December 27, 2010 - 8:27 pm - Posted in Theory and Technique

This week’s episode, a day later than usual because of extended eggnogging*, features the submissions of a few brave souls who participated in Brandon’s tagless, unnarrated dialog exercise.

The rules were simple: Write a scene featuring nothing but dialog between two characters. The characters should have distinct voices, and the scene should communicate both setting and conflict. A great example of this is “They’re Made Out of Meat,” by Terry Bisson, which was a Nebula award nominee in 1992 (not a Hugo winner, though Brandon thought it was.) If you haven’t read it before, it’s a right treat and you should click on the story title and go read it right now.

Well… in 20 minutes or so (we ran long.) Listen to the podcast first, and pay attention as Brandon, Dan, and Howard gently dissect and critique the submissions of tagless, unnarrated dialog.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dune, by Frank Herbert, narrated by Scott Brick , Orlagh Cassidy , Euan Morton , and Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: You are walking down a back alley, and you meet Jason from DragonMount. He’s getting all uppity about how good his submission was. What do you do to him?

Word That In This Context Is A Euphemism For “Howard Got Sick”: Eggnogging: [egg-nah-ging]

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This entry was posted on Monday, December 27th, 2010 at 8:27 pm and is filed under Theory and Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. December 27, 2010 @ 9:02 pm

    Feel better, Howard!

    Posted by Katya
  2. December 27, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

    Thank you, Katya. I’m doing my best by aggressively convalescing today.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  3. December 27, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    Wow, this is a great exercise. I guess I need to get a Twitter account so I’ll know about things like this in time. If it’s not too late, maybe I will try it and post something here this week.

    Posted by Oletta Liano
  4. December 27, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    Beware the eggnog! Hope you’re back up to your normal exceedingly outstanding self soon!

    Posted by Mike Barker
  5. December 27, 2010 @ 11:26 pm

    I’m gonna have to do this week’s writing prompt just ‘cuz it picks on Jason. XD

    Posted by Raethe
  6. December 27, 2010 @ 11:50 pm

    Okay, now that I’ve actually listened to the podcast…

    I actually thought that the voices in the Meat story (which is fantastic, by the way–thanks for sharing!) were fairly well distinguished. This is not because the voices of each character were particularly distinct (you’re right, they weren’t) but because each had a very well-defined position in the discussion: “Hey look, these guys are made out of meat” versus “you can’t be serious, nobody’s made out of meat.”

    So that’s another tool for your arsenal. And THAT was a horribly mixed metaphor.

    Posted by Raethe
  7. December 28, 2010 @ 12:12 am

    What day was it? Is there somewhere we can find the rest of that story and see what happened?

    Posted by Brenna
  8. December 28, 2010 @ 4:59 am

    Gosh, this is great. Could really have used it for last week’s writing prompt.

    Just combined the dialog challenge with the back alley prompt. AND I’m now following Brandon’s tweets. Next time, won’t miss it.

    BTW, where are you guys posting/sending prompt replies?

    Posted by ioMu
  9. December 28, 2010 @ 5:04 am

    For Howard: Here’s something to cheer you along to a speedy recovery:

    It’s my prompt from last week. In it, you’re a very cool superhero type guy.
    (Keep in mind that I hadn’t heard this week’s podcast…so there’s much room for improvement.)

    Posted by ioMu
  10. December 28, 2010 @ 9:21 am

    Someone should give Jason a cursed sandwich.

    Posted by Kim Mainord
  11. December 28, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    This is a tremendous activity. I would love to hear about other activities that you use to improve your writing. Great podcast!

    Posted by Will H.
  12. December 28, 2010 @ 8:28 pm

    Now I’m curious… I’m wondering what kind of punctuation is allowable in dialogue to indicate pacing and tone- something that can easily help to distinguish different characters with no dialogue tags.

    I heard very little of that as Brandon was reading through the submissions- it was pretty much just read through as fast as you could (and I realize y’all are time-crunched and wanted to get to the critiquing), but I, personally, frequently use things like ellipses or dashes to indicate small pauses in a character’s train of thought. It’s also a visual cue for a reader, and I know that professional speech writers also use ellipses to help the speaker know when they need to pause for a second to let something sink in.

    Any thoughts? Suggestions? Rules by which I should write?

    Posted by K. Solomon
  13. December 28, 2010 @ 11:32 pm

    “I’ve read [Dune] more than any other book, including books of scripture.”

    I’m thinking someone should buy Dan a copy of Dune with his name embossed on the cover. And a nice cloth carrying case for it.

    Posted by Katya
  14. December 29, 2010 @ 12:39 am

    Thanks a ton for the dialogue challenge. It’s what got me to start writing my story instead of just talking about it.

    Where are you getting the examples that you are using? Is it just the ones you got from e-mails, or are you including the stuff posted at TWG?

    Posted by luminos
  15. December 29, 2010 @ 1:15 am

    @ioMu I tweeted your Howard Tayler fanfic. It’s as close as the internet is likely to get to seeing me without pants.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  16. December 29, 2010 @ 7:28 am

    @K. Solomon – I believe one of the main things this dialog exercise is about is to teach us not to relay on fancy punctuations or other such things to make our dialog strong and our characters stand out as separate people on the printed page. If written correctly each character will stand out on his/her own without props. I always draw pictures of how I think my characters should look. Then I write a short profile for each with their likes and dislikes, their fears, hopes, their temperament when under pressure and so on. Then when they get in a certain situation I know how they will react. When you know that much about your characters, they almost become real to you which makes it a lot easier to write them as unique characters. Readers will also see them as unique characters and know who is talking without dialog tags or other things.

    I finally got a Twitter account so I don’t miss any more exercise should Brandon post another one. If anyone wishes to follow me, I am signed on as @OlettaLiano.

    Posted by Oletta Liano
  17. December 29, 2010 @ 8:18 am

    @Howard: Just saw the tweet. It’s very cool. But, now I’m feeling a little guilty about the ride and the duds, especially since your Twitter image is cool and Matrix-y. When you guys do “Time Travel”…the non deceptive kind, I’ll take it all back; all but the leopard print. I’m pretty sure I got that part right.

    Posted by ioMu
  18. December 29, 2010 @ 8:54 am

    Hey, it’s the person who wrote about the cursed sandwich.

    Just wanted to thank you guys for your advice! And for this podcast in general. I obviously have a very long way to go, but I think I’m a better writer for taking my weekly dose of writing excuses, and it’s great that you guys take the time to do this. It doesn’t hurt that you guys are so funny, either.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that your advice was appreciated, and that I’ll take it on board, both when taking another go at this exercise and in future endeavours. Thanks again.

    Posted by Bec
  19. December 29, 2010 @ 10:27 am

    So what day was it already?!? BAD Brandon for torturing us.

    Posted by Skye
  20. December 29, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

    How does one become a brave writer that submits his writing for abuse I mean constructive criticism?

    Posted by Apollyon7
  21. December 29, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

    What day was it??? Is it possible to read the whole story?

    Posted by Shem
  22. December 30, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    I really love these critiques – thanks. (And a pox about you, Brandon, you’re going to make me have to sign up for Twitter! Evil temptor!)

    Yes, cursed sandwiches are pretty awesome.

    And I happen to know, from reading the Schlock site, that Howard has really been ill (hope you’re feeling better soon, Howard), but otherwise, “eggnogging” connected with being sick sounds like an entirely different kind of ailment, at least, if people make eggnog the way my father does. ^_^

    Posted by Laurie
  23. December 31, 2010 @ 5:11 am

    Hopefully I got the names almost right in the submissions… a transcript!

    Posted by Mike Barker
  24. December 31, 2010 @ 6:27 am

    Thanks for the transcript Mike! Happy New Year everyone! :)

    Posted by Oletta Liano
  25. January 2, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    I was going to send some dialogue in, but got scared and didn’t. Now I feel bad!
    You guys were completely nice about it, and it was a ton of fun to listen too. I appreciate how you look at what people have done RIGHT, rather then just tear it apart. Thanks!

    A cursed sandwich is made of Peanut Butter, especially if that’s all you get at work all week long. :)

    Posted by CM
  26. January 10, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    Not sure I’d ever write a scene this way, but it’s a great exercise to ensure your voices are distinct and to spice up dialogue to include setting and action.

    Given me a new perspective on dialogue.

    Great show.

    Posted by chella
  27. February 25, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    Podcasts For Writers: Guest Post From Julie Duffy…

    I’d like to welcome Julie Duffy, my very first Guest Blogger. Julie is a fierce advocate of everyone’s right to write. She hosts, a creative writing challenge held in May every year, and has written magazine articles, ebooks and worksho…

    Posted by Writezilla
  28. April 28, 2011 @ 6:45 am

    […] dialogue that is so hard to write? At the end of last year, the Writing Excuses team recorded a podcast where they critiqued pieces of dialogue that had been submitted by listeners, and in my opinion […]

  29. March 21, 2012 @ 9:32 am

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