Month: February 2020

In Search of the Obvious: On-the-Nose Writing

A sure-fire way to enrich the inner lives of our characters—and engage readers—is to cut dialog. Specifically, I’m talking about dialog that states the obvious; dialog that describes exactly what the characters are doing.

Here’s a simple yes/no scene test you can apply to sniff out expositional or “on-the nose” conversation.


  1. Does the dialog feel fake or unnatural?
  2. Does the dialog seem obvious?
  3. Is the dialog unrealistic?
  4. Is the dialog boring?
Screenplay lines from The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Photograph by Monique Peterson.

If you answer “Yes” to any of the above questions, good! You’ve likely sussed out moments in which characters are talking about exactly what’s happening in the scene. Remember, readers like reading between the lines! When we tone down the obvious and ramp up the subtext, we convey insights into the character’s internal worlds and build moments in which characters reveal qualities to which they themselves may be blind.

Once you’ve spotted your obvious culprits, here’s what you can do about it:

  1. Make the conversation about what isn’t being said.
  2. Write dialog that seemingly has nothing to do with how the characters feel or what they think.
  3. Use irony. If the conversation is obvious, have the character speak that way, but in fact mean the opposite.
  4. Streamline exposition. Delete sections of narrative or dialog that overtly state what the character is thinking or feeling.

Not sure what to do? Try silencing your characters. Let the elephant in the room grow bigger.

Finally, ask:

  1. Is there subtext in the dialog?
  2. Is the dialog advancing the story?

If you answer “Yes” to these questions, chances are, your characters are all the richer for it.

Write-in: 12 February

Drop-in gatherings for no-excuse writing.

Join us for a 90-minute stretch of focused writing in the company of familiar faces and perhaps a nosh or beverage.

We’ll keep the first hour dedicated to pens on paper, so bring your notebook/laptop and whatever writing project is on your front burner. Not working on anything specific right now? No problem. We’ll have a few prompts and writing ideas to get you rolling on something new.

For those who wish to share your work or your writing process, let’s discuss! We’ll lift the silence for the last half hour.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020
10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Brew Bakers
209 West Main Street
Grass Valley, Calif. 95945

Sustainable Sabbatical

There are few things more rewarding to a writer than having the opportunity to retreat to an undisclosed place for weeks on end and writing like the wind.

Of course, finishing a manuscript is its own reward.

I’ve been fortunate enough to start out my year doing just that. It’s not always possible to carve out a schedule during which I can spend at least eight hours a day dedicated to a singular writing project. To do so without distraction is pure heaven. I can truly immerse myself in the world I’m creating, with a level of depth and indulgence that isn’t always possible.

It’s hard to let that go.

However, there is a way to keep it.

C. Lockhart-Gordon. To the End. London: John F. Shaw and Co., 1898[?]

In simple math terms, four weeks of fifty hours of writing equals two hundred hours of writing. Practically speaking, that breaks down to four hours per week for fifty weeks (an entire year, with two weeks off), or eight hours per week for twenty-five weeks (roughly an hour and forty minutes per day, five days per week, for a six-month spell). 

With the latter plan, it’s very possible to knock out two manuscripts per year, without taking any time off to go away on a deserted coastline to do so.

For me, the early morning hours are most precious, and I’ll get up ninety minutes earlier to carve out that time. Before long, I’ll not even notice that I’ve changed my schedule.

When is the best time for you to carve out some precious writing time? Do it—and hold to it. Every writer deserves a sabbatical every year.

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