09 April 2009

Avoid phone calls

A very quick tip: avoid phone calls in your fiction. As you know, I've been rereading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. He recommends authors have "tension on every page". Phone calls are rarely filled with tension, and even if dramatic news is imparted, how do you show/describe it in a dramatic way?
And starting a story with a phone call is the worst! Can you say cliche?

I've been having trouble with a particular piece of fiction... I just realized it's because the scene is a phone call. Ugh. Can you say deadly dull?

Send us your phone-call-free stories!


writtenwyrdd said...

Very good advice, since phone calls are, essentially, boring and passive. Everything stops while one speaks on the phone.

However, I've been considering modern technology, and the issue of cellular phones, gps tracking in phones, ability to call for help from almost anywhere, three-way calls you can use to coordinate, etc. can really affect a plot. There are also cameras, texting, internet access, email functions, gps guides and probably a number of other things I'm not familiar with you can do with an everyday cell phone. They are ubiquitous, drat it!

So I've had to consider using phones in my modern day urban fantasy, and although I resist mentioning them, it can make the plot seem full of plot holes if you ignore the existence of current tech because phone calls are dull.

What I've done, generally, is to mention they are used and in what manner, then try to avoid writing the actual calls/cellphone usage for whatever. Keep it to the barest minimum, like start the scene post phone call. Or have someone else in the scene make the call if it's needed to coordinate action.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I love the phone calls in KOP and Hammond's sequels in which holograms of the caller join the person in real life. If they're sitting in a bar, the hologram pulls up a bar stool. Or if they're walking down the street, the hologram walks alongside. Too cool.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Thinking about that more, I guess it turned it into "not a phone call." So there was tension in those scenes.

I agree. Most phone calls suck in fiction.

Keith said...

Think of the movie Maltese Falcon - there's a phone call that ends in a scream. All you can see is Bogie's face and the you can't hear what Mary Astor is saying. It was a good scene.
If you have to use a phone call in your story - don't use the usual "hello", "how are your?" "Nice to hear from you" "goodbye" protocols. Make it tense, make it fast. Only write the part that moves the plot. Make every word count (as you should be doing already).
When writing a phone conversation cut it off quick with a click and dial tone. A scream helps.

lesleylsmith said...

Hhm...a lot of good food for thought! Thanks, all.

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