Monday, March 31, 2014

Observing & Writing Dialog With James Wymore

James Wymore is my featured guest this week and, since I had technical difficulties and am late in posting this interview, I hope you’ll help me make it up to him with an extra warm welcome and generous clicks on his links!

On a lifelong search for fantastic worlds hiding just out of sight, James Wymore writes to explore.  With three books and six short stories in print after just one year, he continues to push the boundaries of imagination.  Journey with him at

First, please tell us a bit about what you write and why dialog is important in your work.

I write science-fiction and fantasy.  Because my worlds are fictional, it’s even more important to have good dialogue.  Dialogue is how characters establish their personality, fears, and desires.  A believable character can help readers suspend disbelief and accept the world those characters live in.  If they don’t connect with the characters through the dialogue, they won’t like the story.

Listening is an integral piece of "people watching". Do you "people listen" automatically, or do you make a deliberate effort?

When I was a young writer, I once recorded a conversation with friends and transcribed the whole thing onto paper as an experiment.  Although I’d enjoyed the conversation, it produced the most boring dialogue ever.  I learned that dialogue is not “real.”  Although I occasionally catch a bit of conversation that will pique my interest or inspire me, good dialogue has to flow out of the characters and advance the story.

Humans exchange a lot of information paraverbally, that is, through intonation, pacing/rhythm, volume, and enunciation. What paraverbal cues are you most sensitive or tuned into as an author, an observer, and a participant?

Body language and inflection, such as for sarcasm, can be difficult to portray well in dialogue.  Small actions help, but they can slow the pace down if not done sparingly.  This is why we can be fascinated with somebody in a live conversation, but find the same words dull on paper.  I tend to watch people’s eyes in live conversation.  So most of the paraverbal cues I write have to do with people making eye contact, looking to the side, or nodding.  I love innuendo, puns, and similar usages, though they can be tricky in dialogue.

Do you enjoy writing dialog? Is there anything about writing dialog that you find challenging?

Yes, I love writing dialogue.  The challenge for me is knowing where to break up the flow with actions or description so it doesn’t slow the conversation down but it keeps the imagination flowing.  When the characters are in trouble and the pressure is building, that’s when the right dialogue is awesome.

What have you learned about yourself and your relationships by observing real life & fictional dialog?

I’m that person who always thinks of just the right thing to say about five minutes after the moment has passed.  Luckily, I can still put it in a book.  Although it’s an unfair metric of measurement, I sometimes find myself comparing real life conversations to character dialogue in books.  I’ve found the really good conversation of my life, while not translated word for word, could become great dialogue.  Many of my most memorable conversations with friends have led to whole books and worlds I had to create from the spark of an idea we talked about at a barbecue in the summer.

Do you have any characters with catchphrases or verbal habits? What are they? How do these personal quirks add depth to your characters?

In the Actuator series, I have a character named Choi Yong-kyeong, friends call him Dragon Star, who is a Korean American.  I am not a fan of writing accents into the dialogue because it’s hard to read.  But I wanted something there to set him off as speaking just a little bit differently.  My genius editor, Chrystal Schlayer, suggested maybe he would not use any contractions.  Soon after making the change I knew it was a perfect fix.  It’s a subtle reminder to readers that his English isn’t perfect, it sets him apart from other characters, and it isn’t annoying by the end of the book.

Do your characters ever interrupt, cross-talk or change the subject? Do you use communication interference in your dialog? Why/Why not?

I have characters interrupted by other people or events.  It can add suspense to not hear the rest of something the character was saying, especially if it answers important questions.  It’s also realistic because life doesn’t wait for a pause in a monologue to happen.

Please share with us a dialog gem that you've recently overheard or participated in. What do you think makes this dialog interesting?

“If you are ever going to throw away metal bowls, or other meal containers, please bring them to me instead,” the Chemistry teacher said to his students.
     “What for?” one inquisitive teen asked.
     “For the thermite lab, we can burn them.”
     “Cool!” the students muttered.
     “What about colanders?” a girl in the back asked.
“Those especially, but they are starting to get valuable.  Much harder to find.   All the Pastafarians are buying them up, driving up the price.”
The students looked back and forth at each other.  The girl finally asked, “Pastafarians?  Don’t you mean…”
“Atheists,” the teacher said.  “Flying Spaghetti worshipers.  They use them for hats.  But if you have any, we can certainly use them.”

(I found this exchange hilarious.  Most of the students didn’t have any idea what the teacher was referring to, but he just kept going on as if it were the most normal conversation in the world.  The sudden change of topic to something completely out of the blue gives a perfect snap-shot of this science teacher and the things on his mind.)

Please share with us a dialog gem from your own writing. (If published, please share the title & link to purchase site.) What do you think makes this dialog interesting?

Here is a bit of dialogue I wrote from a short story called Forbidden Future (in an anthology by the same name).  I think the words tell more about the characters than volumes of description or actions could.
Once he ripped the flap off the envelope, and spread the papers across the receptionist’s desk, he called his wife back.
“What is this?”
“I’m sorry,” she said.  “It’s just not working.”
“But we talked about getting counseling.  Shouldn’t we at least try before we give up?  I already have some names of people I was going to suggest.”  He quickly entered ‘marriage counseling’ and their zip code into the search bar on his browser.  “Ellerman Family Services has a really great program and they’re less than a mile from our house.  We could go in the mornings after I get off.  They even have child care.”
“Too little, too late.  This has just been going on too long.  I won’t ask for more than what’s fair and you can have visitation whenever you want.”
“That’s not what these papers say.  This is the standard every other weekend nonsense.  You know that’s not fair.”
“You’re just not the man I married anymore,” she said.
“What are you talking about?  I’m exactly the man you married.  Same job, same everything.”
“Well maybe it’s that, then.  I thought you wanted more than to be a janitor.  You always said working graveyards would just be temporary until you finished your degree.”
“So that’s the real issue?  You’re embarrassed because you think I’m just a janitor?  This is a time-machine!  Don’t you understand how big that is?”
“I know you think it’s important,” she said.  He couldn’t stand her condescending voice.
“Look, can we talk about this later?  I can’t deal with this right now, I’m working.”
“Working?”   She actually laughed.  “Heaven forbid your divorce should interfere with dusting that stupid machine and reading books all night.”  She hung up.

Is there anything else about observing and writing dialog that you’d like to add?

My favorite books and movies have dialogue so amazing that I find myself quoting them all the time.  Books like “The Importance of Being Earnest” and movies like “Mystery Men” hold a veritable mine of dialogue gems.  I hope in my life I can learn to get so much character out of so few words.  Other times a whole story might build up to a single, perfect sentence.  “Go ahead, make my day.”  Such words hold amazing power.  I stand in awe of and hope to emulate writers capable of wielding language with so much impact.

Twitter: @JamesWymore