Political debates now days are a joke. Back in the days of Lincoln-Douglas, debates were unscripted verbal battles between two people who actually possessed values, morals, scruples, and were highly educated on the issues of the day. They were free to question each other, raise topics out of the blue, and spend more than one minute presenting their side of the issue and allowing a thirty-second rebuttal before the interminable commercial break.
Is there anything not scripted in today’s debates? The clothing, the lighting, the makeup, the audience (not allowed to be partisan), the moderators (media shills who are carefully vetted and don’t sneak in unscripted questions for fear of losing their jobs, or worse, their access to said politicians!)
The answers are scripted because no matter what the question asked is, when a key word like “economy,” “foreign policy,” or “entitlements” pops up in a question, the candidates immediately vomit forth a pre-planned, pre-scripted, pre- researched, and focus group-tested answer that fits exactly into their allotted time for that issue–and, makes a great soundbite for the news programs . I can’t remember the last time any presidential candidate other than a Libertarian has actually answered a question with an appropriate, unscripted, honest answer.
The connection I make with debates and novels is the dialogue. Does your dialogue sound like something spontaneous, inspired by traditional debate techniques, fresh, new, unpredictable, sometimes even illogical? Or is it carefully scripted to make sure each characters says the “right words” at the “right time”?
When I write, I read my manuscript out loud or have an autoreader read it to me. I look for places where the words flow in a predictable manner, each character speaking in character, and there are no surprises. Then I redline those suckers and get rid of them faster than a political candidate can say ” … grow the economy.”
Tension in a non tense scene must come from the dialogue if there is no “action” taking place in that scene. If the conversation is as predictable as a presidential debate, I’m bored and so will my readers be bored.
So I dig into the characters’ hearts, their goals, dreams, concerns, fears, personalities, and write dialogue in a more spontaneous matter, extemporaneous, erroneous sometimes, foolish some others, surprising, disturbing, informative (to the plot), and most of all, human and real. Not real as in using “like, you know” all the time, but real in terms of sounding like the character thinks and acts, or wants to think and/or act. Make the characters real, and trust them to help you find the right words for your dialogues (right meaning “great” this time), and you’ll accomplish two things: add sparkle to your novel and breathe life into your characters by putting them in tense scenes every time.