Posts Tagged ‘writing dialogue’

I wanted to be writing a “Book Thoughts” post today, but I haven’t quite finished The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X Stork.

Oh my. This is a book to savor. Gorgeous, evocative, and worrisome. Plus, I am dragging my heels (eyes?) a bit – I am worried about the ending. I’ve been worried about the ending for quite a while. So much that I am actually NOT reading the last page/chapter before I get there – which I have been known to do.

The other night we had a critique group meeting and one of my brilliant fellow critiquers made an off-hand remark that dialogue should reveal emotion more than plot. And that the action/story needed to be told outside of dialogue. It was in the midst of another important discussion and not long after we were booted from our spot, so I didn’t tackle her and force her to tell me more, but this comment has stuck with me the last few days.

Well, the dialogue in The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is brilliant.

Because so much of the story is based on the developing friendship between tough guy boxer Pancho and philosophical and frail D.Q., there are a lot of conversations between the two of them as they journey out into the world – and also inward, into their hearts and souls.

Book Description: When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short: If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto,” which will help him to live out his last days fully–ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of D.Q. and Marisol, who is everything D.Q. said she would be; and he is inexorably drawn to a decision: to honor his sister and her death, or embrace the way of the Death Warrior and choose life.

Nuanced in its characters and surprising in its plot developments–both soulful and funny–Pancho & D.Q. is a “buddy novel” of the highest kind: the story of a friendship that helps two young men become all they can be.

Some ways dialogue is used to enrich this story:

  • Early in their relationship, Pancho and D.Q. talk, except that each boy is talking about something different. There is a gap of disconnect between them.
  • While traveling in the car, Pancho sits in the back seat and listens to a conversation between D.Q. and Father Concha – there are few to no dialogue tags and yet we don’t need them. And, even though Pancho is mostly silent, he’s a part of the conversation through his inner thoughts.
  • What is NOT said between the two friends is often as important as what IS said.
  • Later in the book, when their friendship is more solid, there is a conversation between them as they lay in their beds in the dark. There are no fillers here – no action, no inner thoughts, no sensory reminders, just talk. As it would be in the dark. Intimate, straight conversation.

And any writer needs to read this post by Francisco X. Stork.

Dole out gentle mercy to yourself…

Sarah Wones Tomp


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Writing dialogue is all about balance. The words of course, but also the space around the words. What is NOT being said can be more informative and enriching than what IS said – but you need both. Then you weave in action too. Concrete reminders of where your characters are – and the actions create beats and pauses too.

Talking to my teen-age daughter is all about balance too. More so. Here we have what is being said, what is not being said; as well as what is not ALLOWED to be said and what will be misconstrued and twisted around so as to be an attack. Mothers are simply not allowed to say some things.

For example, I can say, “That shirt brings out the blue in your eyes.” But I am not allowed to say, “If you didn’t wear so much freaking makeup we could actually see your eyes.”

This amazing, talented, determined, fierce, intelligent, strong, and deeply private girl is a bit of a mystery to me… and always has been – but throw in the teen thing and everything is a mystery. We’ve always joked that she is a cat living with a family of dogs.

Driving her to all her various practices is one place where we can talk. We are alone (being the middle child really does mean that more often than not there are siblings around). We don’t have to make eye contact. She knows she will escape within a definite time limit. We have the action and other cars to create beats and space.

But now she’s learning to drive.

Besides the fact that it is just as terrifying the second time around, we just can’t have the same conversations. Now I say, “Watch your speed on this upcoming curve,” because I am not allowed to say, “For the love of doughnuts and all things sweet, SLOW DOWN.”

And, of course, there’s the whole idea that she’s a big girl now. She’s learning to drive so she can move on and out into the world.

I’m losing even more opportunities to talk… to guess what is going on in the space behind the words.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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