Saturday, April 17

Posted by Laurel Garver on Saturday, April 17, 2010 22 comments
Welcome to the final day of my Eleventy-one awards program, celebrating my 111 followers (plus quite a few more) and their wonderful writing. Day by day, you've had a chance to see different approaches to persuasive dialogue in action. Today I reveal the top prize winner!

As in the previous days, I provide a short commentary after the winning entry that includes take-home tips to try in your own work. Today's winner, as you'll see, shows us how negotiation can be complex, yet still FUN. There are some great techniques to see here, and try at home!

Without further ado, my grand prize winner is...

Janet Johnson!

Janet won a fifteen-page critique. You can read Janet's winning novel excerpt from The Other Prince HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)


What I noticed immediately is how natural Janet's dialogue sounds. I found I could read this aloud in two distinct voices without any effort, just based on the word choices and cadence. I feel Bob's somewhat whiny petulance, and yet I like this guy from the beginning. He's insightful and witty about his predicament and really humble. Briann exudes a no-nonsense approach to life, and yet she, too, is insightful and a good listener to boot.

Some of the details tell us we're in a fantasy setting, but the lingo here is lighter and more contemporary feeling. It's fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously, very like Rowling in tone. That's a plus as far as I'm concerned, because I can't read much of the "forsooth, my lord," sort high fantasy nowadays without snickering. But I digress....

Janet's piece is a persuasion you'll see in almost every genre--creation of an alliance. I learned a lot about what goes into trust-building by studying what she does here.

Trust surely comes when one feels understood and heard. Notice how Briann draws Bob out, getting him to talk about his specific fears. I love how she pulls up a bucket and sits. It's a nonverbal cue that says "I'm available, I'm invested, talk to me." She asks questions initially, but doesn't interrogate. As he opens up more, she simply reflects what he's saying to show that she's processing, taking it in.

She waits to press him to action, first by teasing, then by offering a solution. Because she has heard him out and because of the earlier teasing, he doesn't get angry at her suggestion. He instead shifts the conversation's tone to a humor sparring. It's a way of getting back onto familiar territory. Bob's more comfortable with his self-deprecating side than with the guy Briann suggests he might be. That, my friends, is some solid characterization. Go and do likewise!

Briann knows just which buttons to push to get Bob to agree to her plan. It's an interesting mix of attack, shaming, name-calling, plus compliments, reassuring, and even exposing inner self. Janet grabs many tools from the negotiation toolbox and works them to great effect in a very small space. It impressed me greatly.

What totally kicked me in the throat here, though, was Bob's inner thoughts near the end of the scene. He's sensed that not only does he have a plan for dealing with his problem, but that his relationship with Briann has subtly shifted. Or at least he's aware that he wishes it would. He reads back meaning into what just transpired and hopes intensely for just a moment, caught up in the dream of being that guy, the one Briann sees in him. That guy that Briann could love. Then...THUD, he's back to being humble old Bob. Wow. I've just seen the larger story arc play out in his head in just a handful of words. Nice. Very nice.

Technically, I think the piece would be just as effective with fewer dialogue tags. Feel free to weigh in about that in the comments.

What do you appreciate about Janet's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?


  1. I'm a sucker for good dialogue, and this is just great. Thank you for the excellent teenager advice. I came upon it this morning, and it is so appreciated and true. I have a small gift for you. Could I get your address to mail it over? Thanks!

  2. Congrats to Janet! I really enjoyed this - like Roxy, mainly because of the dialogue. It was so believable!

  3. Laurel, I'm seriously speechless. Thank you! And a comparison to Rowling? Wow.

    This has been a great contest. Not only fun, but I've learned so much. You can't ask for better.

    And I extra appreciate any comments where cuts are concerned. I think I'll take you up on that suggestion. :)

  4. Roxy: Woo hoo! I sure will. Thanks! For the record, my kid is only 7, but my advice came from my experience as a teen--being tight with Dad made a difference. :-)

    Talli: the authenticity wowed me too.

  5. Janet: you're welcome. How about I mark up a document and e-mail it? A few trims will make the pacing zingier, I think. But the basics are very solid, especially the characterization--such likable kids!

  6. Ah, nicely done, ladies. The "thud" at the end's what made it for me. :)

    Congratulations, Janet!

  7. Wonderful dialogue, Janet. I, too, loved the kicker at the end, which added deeper layers to all that had gone between them.
    Again, thank you so much, Laurel, for holding this excellent contest and for your insightful comments. Really. This whole experience rocked.

  8. Laurel, that would be wonderful. Thank you!

    And thank you, everyone, for your comments! I'm so glad you like it. Especially the thud. :)

  9. Laurel, that would be wonderful. Thank you!

    And thanks, everyone, for your comments! I'm so glad you liked it. Especially the thud. :)

  10. Congratulations, Janet! Great awards, Laurel.
    Have a good weekend all:)

  11. I agree with you regarding the dialogue tags, Laurel. But the dialogue was excellent. Congratulations to Janet and thanks Laurel for teaching me stronger dialogue techniques.

  12. Congrats to Janet - I agree- terrific dialogue :)

  13. Congratulations Janet, fabulous writing.

    Thanks Laurel for hosting such a great contest where we could see each other's work. Great idea.

  14. Oh, I LOVE dialogue, especially when it's done well--as fluidly and genuine as Janet's. Big congratulations to Janet on winning your contest!!

    I wish I'd had time to enter. I'm now in the scary pool of query madness. Eeep. But great contest, Laurel. You've done a fabulous job with it. I especially loved this entry. Teens, magic, and unrequited love...right up my alley.

  15. Congratulations, Janet! I know what fabulous characterization you do, thanks to the fact that we're in the SAME WRITING GROUP! This is hysterical. You deserve it! I'll come talk to you in a bit, but I wanted to congratulate you here, too. :)

  16. Aaah! My internet connection keeps kicking out or my mouse does. Must shoot computer.

    Janet, Laurel is correct. You do a great job on ALL your characters. They all have unique voices and suitable personalities to fit the voice and you do this despite a pretty large cast. Also, you have characters grow and change over time. This is a strength I've seen you develop. It's been a treat! Can't wait for the next book!

  17. Simon: glad you enjoyed it.

    Tricia: Each winning entry was so different, too. I hope it was a fun learning experience for all.

    Janet: The weekend got away from me, but I'll send the marked pages soon.

    Karen: Thanks. The variety was especially cool.

  18. Lynn: I plan to do some follow-up posts on dialogue, so stay tuned.

    Jemi: Thanks for your encouraging words.

    Anne: Glad you enjoyed it.

    Carol: It was a fun contest to host--makes me miss editing & publishing a lit mag. Good luck with querying!

    Victoria: Your writing group is made of win! And yes, characterization is clearly Janet's strength. I'm excited to provide her critique prize!

  19. Neat contest! I haven't seen one like this before. Thanks for running it.

  20. Congrats, and a special thanks for the critique about why it won. We don't get to see that as often!

  21. Rosslyn: I like writing dialogue and thought others might, too. The persuasion/negotiation angle came when I tied in with Bilbo, who turns 111 in Fellowship of the Ring.

    Lydia: Thanks for coming by and following! I thought the contest would make better blog content if I brought in an educational element. Glad you liked it.