"There's a kid trapped in the dumpster."
"No, a cat..."
The Starbucks employees were running around wildly with a box, trying to figure out how to get the kitten out of the dumpster. It would have been funny, exepct, I swear, I heard the person say 'kid' also and was really freaked out. My heart rate is only now settling back to normal.
I imagine that the idea of writing dialogue, for non-writers, seems easy. It's just how we speak, right? Well, sure... a little, but take this overhear as an example and it's obvious that good dialogue is sooooo much more. First, there must be context to set it up.... who is speaking, but also, why, and what is the tone. When we are in person speaking that is all obvious; but as writers we have to create that through description and, I for one, will say that's not the easiest thing to do without soundlng like the director calling shots for a movie scene.
If I had first described the frantic running in and out of the Starbucks door by the employees... heedless of customers or cars, and carrying an empty box; now the dialogue begins to make a little more sense. Our eyes watch the action as the dialogue is spoken, so it is not enough to simply frame the dialogue before and after. Somehow the writer has to squeeze that action in while not slowing the dialogue down too much.
So let's try this again.... (and, BTW, for all my fantastic writer friends.... I'd love to get your take on this same dialogue in the comments section.)
Inside Starbucks it was a crazy morning as usual. The line, in fact, went clear out the door. With the door open it was much easier for the frantic employees to scurry between the store entrance and the dumpster where the cat was trapped.
"What are they doing," a woman shouted to another customer just as the harried barrista asked for her order.
"There's a kid trapped in the dumpster," the person answered over the loud hiss of the espresso machine.
What? The woman thought. How is that possble? How could people just be standing here acting as if all that was important was their tall, double shot, skinny, no foam, latte.
"A kid?" she asked in disbelief.
Outside, one Starbucks employee was now standing inside the dumpster and the other was handing over the box. The idea that it must be a baby trapped in the dumpster threw the woman into action so that she missed the crucial reply.
"No... a cat," the man shouted after her, watching the crazed woman run out the door to help.