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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Wed 28
Apr
2004

Throwaway dialogue as art form

Writing I stumbled onto that TV show Newlyweds the other night, and quickly became engrossed. I never realized this was a documentary about two pop stars; I just assumed it was some kind of reality TV show where the recently wed compete to break up each other’s marriages. Hmm… actually, that’s not a bad idea. Let me just call my agent…

One of the things I loved about Newlyweds was that Jessica seems to have a rent-a-friend: a person hanging around whose only job is to laugh at her jokes. Next time I go on book tour, I’m asking my publisher for one of those. (Max: “So you’re Jeremy?” Jeremy: “Right! Ha ha ha! Very good!” Max: “You and me are going to get along just fine, Jeremy.”) In fact, I could do with one in everyday life.

The other thing I loved was the dialogue. If this thing was scripted, I’d be campaigning for them to hand over the Emmy right now. See, I have something of an addiction to throwaway dialogue. This is an exchange between characters that has no bearing whatsoever on the plot, but is fun anyway. Or, at least, fun for the writer. (It’s very liberating to write a scene that doesn’t have to do anything.) But it’s not so much fun to read, which is why my throwaway dialogue tends to get deleted between drafts one and two. It’s basically just me being tricksy, and I don’t think anyone wants to pay money to see that. You can just visit my web site.

Anyway, there was a tiny scene in Newlyweds that was so perfect that it sent me running for pen and paper. This is classic throwaway dialogue. It may well do nothing for you, but for me… goosebumps, dude. Goosebumps.

Jessica and Nick are walking down a hotel corridor. Suddenly Jessica lets loose an enormous sneeze.

Nick: Bless you.

Jessica: Is that true, that if you sneeze, your heart stops?

Long pause. Nick turns around to look at her.

Nick: Why would your heart stop?

Jessica (defensive): That’s what I heard… just… what I heard.

Nick: From who?

Jessica: I don’t know.

Loooooooooong pause.

Nick: Never heard that.

Comments

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Out4Blood (#1049)

Posted: 3470 days ago

Just think of your throwaway dialogue as a way to deepen your characters and make them more intriguing.

Errr, nevermind.

Then I guess it wouldn't really be throwaway... (unlike this comment)

Galen (#1516)

Location: In a land far, far away, sometimes referred to as college.
Quote: ""It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. " - Oscar Wilde"
Posted: 3301 days ago

If you ever need a rent-a-friend...

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