Robin came in to the coffee shop while I was sitting in the back booth, sipping on an iced coffee and scribbling in my notebook.
“What are you doing?” she asked, slipping into the seat across from me and tucking a strand of black hair behind her ear.
“Writing a short story with lots of dialogue,” I said. “All my stories have tons of exposition and lots of description, but they’re always short on dialogue. So for this story I am trying to make it all about dialogue.”
Robin crinkled her nose. “Talking, eh? So what’s the story about?”
I sighed. “I’m not sure yet. I just know that it has to have a lot of dialogue.”
The waitress came by and Robin ordered an ice coffee. Then she refocused her attention on me. “So you decided that you wanted to write a story with lots of dialogue, but you have no idea what the story is about?”
“Correct” I said.
“You do realize that’s not how most people write stories, don’t you?”
“Yep,” I said. “But I want to make this work. You don’t grow unless you push yourself in new directions.”
Robin grinned. She had a way of grinning that cut through you like a katana blade. “Very profound, Confucius. Put that in your story somewhere: ‘You don’t grow unless you push yourself in new directions.’ Maybe you can have your protagonist say that before he starts off on his journey.”
The waitress returned with Robin’s iced coffee and she took a sip without taking her eyes off me. I felt like I was being cross-examined at a murder trial.
“So who is your protagonist, anyway?” she asked, that familiar glass-cutting grin creeping up at the corners of her mouth. “Let me guess…he’s a guy about your age, about your height, about your build, who maybe sets overly ambitious goals for himself?”
I flushed deep red. Could she see directly into my brain? Or was I really that transparent? It was time for a counterattack. “Maybe it’s about a know-it-all brunette girl who always puts her iced coffee on my tab.”
She grinned and took a long lingering sip, batting her eyelashes at me like a 1950s movie star. “Thanks for the iced coffee, dah-ling.”
One more sip and she continued. “Look, Mr. Touchy-Pants. All I am saying is that you can’t just set out to write a story with lots of dialogue unless you know that you have a story that calls for a lot of dialogue. Otherwise it is just going to sound forced.”
I groaned. “I know. It’s not really working for me.” I snapped my notebook shut. “Why is dialogue so hard? People talk all the time! I’ve been talking for longer than I’ve been writing. I’ve been talking for longer than I’ve been walking. This should be easy. But it’s not. My characters never have anything to say.”
Robin leaned across the table and smiled. This wasn’t another of her saber-toothed grins, thankfully. This smile had genuine warmth.
“My advice is to start slow,” she said. “Pick a realistic situation where two characters would be talking…like, say a coffee shop. Then introduce a protagonist who is desperately trying to achieve a goal, say you trying to write this story. Then add conflict, maybe by introducing an antagonist in the form of a beautiful girl who knows far too much about far too many things.” She beamed. “And then have them start talking and see what happens.”
I shrugged. “Sounds easy when you say it that way. But it will never work.”