Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words?, by Ben Jeapes

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The current work in progress, I have come to realise, is very conversation-heavy. Of course, the characters also move around and get from A to B and B to A, but they do talk rather a lot too. I suppose that’s inevitable, given that it is deliberately meant to be a novel of Christian apologetics, exploring a couple of moral issues and suggesting not just “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” but why this might be a good thing.

I have no idea if it will work, but it’s fun to try.

Conversation is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. It takes up large chunks of the gospels and no one complains about that. The gospel writers concentrate on the essentials. But I’m not writing a gospel. I have two problems as a writer: getting the words down in the first place, and engaging the reader’s interest in them.

The first is surprisingly easy. Very often, I simply write down the words. I’m not trying to be funny there: I do mean, just the words that are said. No “he said” or “she said”; no adverbs (which should be kept to a minimum anyway on general principle); no setting or action, even. Just the words, back and forth, almost freeflow. That's how I find I make a conversation natural and not stilted. I find I may well already have most of this in my notes anyway, in which case I simply drop my notes in and, presto! A few hundred words already, where previously there was only a blank screen staring back at you.

With the words in place, I can then refine and polish to get all the right nuances and senses in. Then comes the “he said” and “she said” and the bare minimum of alternative verbs and adverbs and so on. And, of course, some editing because I may well have waffled on or not said something tightly enough.

At the same time comes the engaging of the reader’s interest. Where is the conversation actually taking place? What is going on around them? What else are they doing? How can I make this actually like the real world that the reader knows?

I try to have people talking in different places. If they were in the kitchen last time, this time they’re walking down the road. It doesn’t have to be much but it does help the reader identify. I make it age appropriate; by which I mean, the teenage protagonists might be chatting on their phones, but their grandparents are more likely to be talking face to face.

I know the gospels elide all of this with a simple statement like, “Some Pharisees came to him and said …” without any detail whatsoever. But as I say, I’m not writing a gospel.

So, that’s how I do it, anyway. What’s your trick?

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace.

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  1. And this site continues to steal content from other Christian sites without even the courtesy of an attribution. Not very Christian! For the record this post originally appeared, and belongs to, the blog of the Association of Christian Writers at Temple Mount Christian Center does NOT have permission to reproduce it, not that they even asked.