Sunday, April 2

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Conversation Sound Natural?

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy 

Note: An extra RLD this weekend since the queue is getting rather long. 

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Ten 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through June 10.

This week’s questions:

Does the dialogue sound natural and believable? Does the writing make the scene flow well? Are the tags and beats placed well? Are either characters likable or not likable?


Market/Genre: Mystery/Romance

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: A man, who had been arrested for attempting to rob someone, posts bail. His sister, a struggling single mom, and her son pick him up from the police station. They are sitting in her car, and this section is a part of their conversation.

I look at my nephew, sleeping in his booster seat. His glasses sit skewed on his little face, blonde locks resting over the rim. A pudgy cheek presses against the seat cushion, puffing his lips apart.

He’s adorable. I’d do anything for this little guy. It’s not fair what he goes through every day. “How’s he doing?”

Jillian faces him and lets out a labored breath. “He’s okay…” She only says two words, but the heaviness in her voice weighs down each one. My chest aches hearing her this way. “He had another episode. The doctor suggested a treatment, but-”

“Whatever he needs, I told you I’d take care of it.”

She stays silent, but I know there are things running through her mind. Finally, she shakes her head and says, “you can’t keep supporting us like this.”

“You and Mason are my only family. We take care of each other. You understand?” She gives me a small nod. A layer of tears glisten in her eyes, and it grips my heart. I hate seeing her cry. “Think about it this way,” I say a little softer. “You posted my bail. Now I’m bailing you out.”

She rolls her eyes, but the corner of her lips curl just a bit.

“C’mon, that was good. I think it warrants a response.”

“Stop that,” she says, starting the car. “We’re going home. I can’t take any more puns.”

“Now you’re just being con-descending.”

“Your jokes are lame,” she says, smiling full on now.

Yeah, they are, but I’d keep going just to see her smile.

My Thoughts in Purple:

I look at my nephew, sleeping in his booster seat. His glasses sit skewed on his little face, blonde locks resting over the rim. A pudgy cheek presses against the seat cushion, puffing his lips apart.

He’s adorable. I’d do anything for this little guy. It’s not fair what he goes through every day. [“How’s he doing?”] Although it’s clear who’s speaking here, I wanted a dialogue tag

Jillian faces him and lets out a labored breath. “He’s okay…” She only says two words, but the heaviness in her voice weighs down each one. My chest aches hearing her this way. “He had another episode. The doctor suggested a treatment, but-”

“Whatever he needs, I told you I’d take care of it.”

She stays silent, but I know there are things running through her mind. Finally, she shakes her head and says, “you can’t keep supporting us like this.”

“You and Mason are my only family. We take care of each other. You understand?” She gives me a small nod. A layer of tears glisten in her eyes, and it grips my heart. I hate seeing her cry. “Think about it this way,” I say a little softer. “You posted my bail. Now I’m bailing you out.”

She rolls her eyes, but the corner of her lips curl just a bit.

“C’mon, that was good. I think it warrants a response.”

“Stop that,” she says, starting the car. “We’re going home. [I can’t take any more puns.”] He’s only made two, so perhaps leave this off

“Now you’re just being con-descending.”

“Your jokes are lame,” [she says, smiling full on now.] could change this to avoid two “she says” tags in a row, and avoid the double “smile” with the next line

Yeah, they are, but I’d keep going just to see her smile.

The questions:

1. Does the dialogue sound natural and believable?

Yes, it read fine to me. It's a grateful brother trying to be silly and make his sister laugh so she feels better. As a lover of puns, I’ve written a similar conversation myself between twin sisters (involving plants), so I can appreciate the humor (grin).

2. Does the writing make the scene flow well?

A few minor tweaks, but yes, it felt like a real conversation and nothing tripped me up.

3. Are the tags and beats placed well?

Yes. The same minor tweaks here just for the rhythm of it, but working.

4. Are either characters likable or not likable?

A loving brother and sister who are trying to help each other during tough times is hard not to like, so I’d say yes, they’re likable. I don’t really know enough about to care yet, so they come across as “nice people” so far. I imagine once I heard their story and knew why she was bailing him out I’d start to care, though.

Overall, and easy diagnostic today. This conversation is working for me, and my tweaks are more cosmetic than anything else.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

3 comments:

  1. Good flow and I like the inner thoughts between dialog.
    The only thing that struck me is that they're discussing his "support" as if he has been paying her way via working, when it sounds like he has been doing it by robbing people. Wouldn't she make some comment about he can't keep supporting her by breaking the law or something to that effect? That part seemed unnatural. He's helping her because she's struggling, but he's robbing people to get the money and they are both acting like it's no big deal...at least in this scene. I would think the conversation would be addressing that, rather than him swooning over the little boy.Maybe it comes up as the conversation progresses???
    One last minor thing...would a man think a little baby is "adorable"? Sounds like a feminine word to me :)

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  2. This reads fine except for the minor issues already mentioned. All the elements needed to make these three likable characters are in play, but there isn't enough here to become fully engaged yet. Too, the conversation is taken out of the context of the story so there are questions that wouldn't otherwise exist.

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  3. The sister doesn't seem too concerned about her brother ending up in jail. The tears could be for the child, herself or her brother. Maybe she should stress that he'd be no good to them in jail? That she's looking for more work or whatever she needs. He doesn't seem worried about how he'd help pay for the treatment...Like he has to plan better so his attempt goes better next time. I also get the vibe of a woman's voice instead of a male.

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