Opening Salvo

My boyfriend Joe (whom some of you may know as The Fairy GodBoyfriend) and I were talking in the car Saturday morning on the way home from the Adam Ezra concert in Lancaster, PA. Thanks to a considerable lack of both sleep and caffeine I can’t remember what got us onto the particular subject, but Joe made a comment about how he’s not a real talkative fellow. He’s just not the kind of guy who goes out of his way to introduce himself to everyone at the party. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Like everything men say, Joe’s statement is true…to a point. Joe has no problem talking to strangers. None at all. In fact, he enjoys it. If I ever leave him by himself at a party–or a line at Best Buy–he will inevitably be chatting with the person next to him upon my return. He’s not antisocial; he just doesn’t make the first move.

Joe has two major advantages: 1.) He recognizes and accepts that he is not the kind of guy who makes the opening move and 2.) He has an incredibly dark, sharp, and dry wit. So here’s what Joe does. He stands alone, aloof, watching the world around him. Inevitably something happens, about which Joe makes a fabulously snide comment that would have Lewis Black and Denis Leary fighting for a pen to write down. Someone within earshot hears this comment and laughs. Nine times out of then, this person comments back to Joe.

And lo, the conversation has started.

As I write this now, it occurs to me: I’m not even sure Joe realizes that he does this. It’s just second nature to him. People all over the world wrestle every day with how to start a conversation–whether it’s with the cute girl at the bar, or the electric company representative on the phone. I grew up in a clique of nerds and continue to frequent science fiction conventions like they’re going out of style. I am constantly surrounded by the socially awkward (and I treasure every single one of them). If these folks only knew Joe’s secret! (Many of them do–they’re just not as witty as Joe.)

As writers, some of us struggle with dialogue. What’s the first thing your character says? What is she reacting to? What is he wondering about? Is it something important, or is it just there to move the plot along. Is there more story being told between the lines, or is it just a bunch of lame tagging? (I hate “stage directions”.) Worst of all–is it there at all, or are you just telling us that someone spoke? (Show! Don’t Tell!)

For some of writers, dialogue is second nature. It flows off the tongue like water off a duck’s back. (Granted, those of us usually have issues elsewhere–like with descriptions. Oh, descriptions, how you are the bane of my existence!)

Dialogue is the lifeblood of your story. It tells the reader what your character sounds like–the cadence of his voice, the tone she uses, the slang words, the colloquialisms. Dialogue tells us how your character feels about other characters, and about the world in general. It tells us how your character would react given a certain situation. (Don’t go for the obvious reaction–go crazy! It’s more fun!) Dialogue makes your character allies and enemies. It burns bridges and mends fences. It is–usually–where we fall in love.

I fell in love with Joe, after all.

But every conversation has to start somewhere. What are your opening salvos? What do they say about your character? What’s your favorite snappy bit of dialogue?