Saying “No” in Interesting Ways

One of the greatest pieces of writing advice I’ve received came from a lecture I attended at AULA. A mentor of mine, Rob Roberge, talked about “How to Make a Scene.” The idea stems from the old saying, “Stop! Stop! You’re making a scene!”

Well, yes, that’s the point, really.

Writers are scene makers. But how does one make a scene? The thing that stuck with me the most from this lecture was when Roberge said, “Dialog is people saying ‘No’ to each other in interesting ways.”

This demands that we remember a few things: First, it implies that something is being asked for, begged for, or bargained. Of course, if the answer is no, that implies contrary motivations among characters. So, before we can do this, we need to understand the exact motivation of our characters.

When our writing drags, an easy way to pick it up is to take two or more characters with opposing motivations and throw them in the same room. Whether it’s something simple (Character One: Man, I’m thirsty. Can I borrow a buck to buy a soda? Character Two: Seriously, you’re always begging money from me. I’m getting a little tired of it.), or something more profound, (Character One:  We’ve given this a lot of thought, and we’d like you to be the one to talk to mom about her moving in with us. Character Two: But Mom hates me. She’ll never go for the idea. She’ll read me out, you know she will.), or something over the top (Character One: There’s no way to stop me. I will take over the world and you and your pretty little family will be my slaves forever! MWAHAHAHAHA!!! Character Two: Not while I’m alive.).

Whether the motivation is mundane or melodramatic, one sure-fire way to get your story moving in the right direction is to have your characters tell each other “No.” For more fun, have people who are supposed to work together, supposed to love each other, find an issue they simply can’t agree on. The stakes will feel higher because their friendship (or marriage etc.) may be on the line.

My good friend Diane Sherlock discussed this same issue on her blog. Be sure to check that out as well. If you haven’t bookmarked her site, you’ll want to be sure to do that now. She gives great advice.

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