Three ways to avoid "Talking Wallpaper" Dialogue.
We've all written and read "Talking Wallpaper" dialogue. It mimics the chit-chat of every day conversation.
"Hi there," Steve said.
"How's it going?" Bob replied.
"Oh, it's all right."
Does this dialogue sound realistic? Yes. But is it enthralling, engaging, or riveting? I'm going to say no. Thankfully if you see dialogue like this in your writing, there are a few simple ways to resolve it.
1.) Focus your scene around the core conflict: What's the core conflict of your scene? Who wants what in your scene and who is going to try to stop them? Answer that question, and your scene will come to life. Scenes with Wallpaper Dialogue are usually missing conflict, bring a character's goal to the center of the scene and watch Wallpaper Dialogue disappear.
2.) Cut to the interesting parts: As silly as this sounds, you have to remember: Wallpaper Dialogue accomplishes NOTHING. Zero. If you have a scene where a character is talking with the bartender while ordering a beer, just cut to him receiving the beer and remove all the Wallpaper. (An example from the edit below)
3.) Add subtext by setting up a complex situation around the scene: Sometimes these casual conversations are okay, but they usually work best with subtext. Set up that Joe has murdered someone and his casual, "Wallpaper" conversation with the investigating detective can still be interesting. Maybe the detective asks a few casual questions that are a bit too probing, and suddenly we got a scene!
Want to hear all this explained in more detail? Here's a video edit where two of the stories we read bumped into this issue:
You all are talented writers, and I can't wait to see how you solve the challenge of Wallpaper Dialogue in your writing.
Here are my detailed notes from the video for those who are interested:
P1 - Perhaps add a title page? NBD but would help P1 - "Growls w/ determination" How is a snow plow determined? Also how would we get this through the context. Better to save the room and just stop at growls. Abstract language like this always is a risk- try to keep things concrete. P1 - interpretive lines are allowed in character description so the "takes a deckade off" works in that context P3 - KEEP DIALOGUE SHORT - I was willing to allow the long block of dialogue for a joke delivery, but it keeps going for 3 more long blocks. We gotta trim since there's no real hook or conflict yet. P3 - WE also need more of a sense of "There's a plot COMING SOON" even if we're not going to do the traditional hook . P4 - When characters' laugh hard at a joke or even the joke of not laughing at first, then it feels weird if the reader isn't laughing that hard unless its intentionally ironic. P5 - We are getting a LOT of characters. HArd to tell who is important since no PLOT has started to weave around one of them yet except maybe coughing Brian. P6 - The character relationships and reactions feel pretty muddy to me, and it's hard to care since nothing but a coughing fit has really happened. I need to get a sense of THREAT - of impending DOOM! P6 - Lamplight scene isn't clear that it's a bar until we get the scene description - set up your scenes a bit more and use your sluglines to do it: EXT. Lamplight Bar - Main Street - Night P7 - Once they go inside you should start a new scene. P7 - Same dialogue issue as the other book - it's all the HOW ARE YOU / I AM FINE dialoge - this is what we want to KILL with CONFLICT! P8 - when the character's dont care the reader doesn't care. Everyone talks about his coughing like it's okay, and he blows it off, so when they keep bringing it up, I wonder why, since they all treat it like it's whatever. (Same with making something every character cares about!) P9 - A scene is not a scene without CONSEQUENCE - if we cut all these scenes out, nothing would change. If we didn't have them fixing the car, what would change. -- I need to see a character with a GOAL in each scene / an obstacle / and a consequence of getting or failing to get that goal.
GOOD: -- Great characters and great voices - they all sound different -- I like the way you describe the world - it feels really vivid and cold. I'm literally cold just reading it. Great job evoking the world.
IMPROVE: -- We need CONFLICT surrounding whatever the big PLOT will be and we at least need to have some big hint about what is coming. -- Avoid any "How are you" / "I am fine" dialogue. This is a momentum killer. Just cut any line that isn't necessary - cut to them getting a beer.