Nano Tip #3: Dialog Spine Analysis


After all your great responses to Monday’s Nano Tip post, I though I’d spend one more post looking at the story. So many of you had cool interpretations and in interesting questions, so I thought I’d give you my own version.

(For those of you who haven’t read the Dialog Spine Story, and most importantly the comments, you should go do that now. And don’t forget Justine’s Nano Tip #2 from yesterday.)

Now, the author’s interpretation is privileged in some ways (people tend to give it extra weight) but that doesn’t mean that my version is “right” and any that differs from mine is “wrong.”

But here’s what I was thinking as I wrote the story:

  1. Yes, there is a dead person and a live person. The dead one has no quote marks.
  2. I kept the genders non-specific. Either of the two could be male or female, and they could be a hetero pairing or not. I sort of had a picture in my mind, but I don’t see the point in declaring it, given that there was no clear consensus in your comments. The rest works no matter which way you fall with the gender stereotypes/readings.
  3. Yes, the live person was driving in the accident, which was few days ago. The ghost was in the passenger seat without seatbelt. And it’s the day of the ghost’s funeral.
  4. The live person is having lunch in town, skipping the funeral out of shame. (You didn’t expect to see anyone in town today. Least of all me.)
  5. It’s not a huge town, but it’s a 30-60-minute drive from the funeral, which is out in the country.
  6. No one else can see/hear the ghost. (Tell him black.//“Black, please.”)
  7. They were having an affair. (And I’d have worn one if you’d asked. I did a lot of things for you.)
  8. The affair was secret, because the living person is somewhat older, and was friends with the ghost’s parents (as stated). Some markers of age: drinking gin, eating cold salmon, general fussiness, and mostly: “But it’s not as though . . . you’re eighteen, after all.”//Ah. You’ve been practicing that line, haven’t you?//“Don’t be crass.”
  9. The affair was more or less revealed because of the crash, even if the ghosts’ parents haven’t said anything about it yet. So the living person feels guilty about a lot more than just driving that night.
  10. The ghost is plotting the living person’s death. (I wish I could hold a knife.//You’ll have to drive fast.//Drive safely.//etc.) This is partly out of a need for revenge (a dish best “Served Cold”) but it’s mostly that the ghost is still in love and is angry that the living person’s survival has separated them. (Don’t let me go down there alone.)
  11. You can also read the story as being entirely inside the living person’s head. It doesn’t seem as though anyone can hear either side of the conversation, after all. So maybe the survivor is changing their mind about going to the funeral, and convincing themselves to do something dramatic and unsafe to make amends.
  12. You should always wear your seatbelt.

Okay, that’s all I got. Thanks again for being such good readers.

Also, note that I didn’t even notice the resonance of “Don’t let me go down there alone” until El pointed it out in Comment 14. w00t!

See you in Montreal tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 4th 7:00PM
Chapters Pointe-Claire
6321 Trans-Canada Highway, unit 1410
(514) 428-5500

Click here for all tour details. And click here to buy Leviathan.


And don’t forget that my lovely wife Justine is in Chicago this week, talking about her new book Liar:

Wednesday, 4 November, 7:00PM
Anderson’s Bookshop
5112 Main St

Downers Grove, IL

32 thoughts on “Nano Tip #3: Dialog Spine Analysis

  1. WOOT !! i WAS right about the alive person being a friend of the parents and having an affair with their daughter!!

  2. Hmmm. I really like this nanno writing. I think im gonna try it for my next assignement as have my eng teacher think im a prodigy.

  3. Oh, exept that it wasnt neccasarily a daughter. But… i still think it is 🙂 Awsome story.

    Hmmm, usually people have commented everywhere by the time i get here… 2nd, 3rd AND 4th comment? its not ever my birthday.

    I really liked that there was that element of unease that was given by the reader not being aware of the setting and people like they usually are.. makes things more… shakey. Wow. Awsome story. Very.. melencolic (is that a word)?

  4. bubbly!

    and I like dialogue.

    But I was wondering if you or Justine could do a post with hints/suggestions for imagery?

  5. Fawesome story, Scott-sama.
    I still think the one that’s dead was a female, because of the way he/she talked, but still.
    I hadn’t really noticed the who revenge-seeking part of the story until I read this and saw the little hints. It’s so fun when that happens, because now I get to go read the story and see it from your POV!
    I wish I could see Justine’s. But alas, my school computer has blocked it for some reason, so I’ll have to wait until I get home in… eight hours. D:

  6. Very cool! I guess I got some of the things right…but there were a lot of things I missed! Like the “Don’t let me go down there alone” comment — and to think I thought the dead character was referring to the funeral home down the road!
    I like it, and I like the vengeful spite at the end. I hope you had fun reading our interpretations!!

  7. Also, good job not making the characters gender-specific – i did have quite a battle mentally over who was a girl, boy, or both to either – but I like that any gender works!

  8. So I picked up on everything except the ghost plotting the live one’s death, whoot! And I still think it’s an older woman and a teenage boy, kinda that old woman affair thing (and why the heck does that make me think of Benjamin Button…).

  9. YAY! 10th comment! I’m at the school’s computer lab wasting my life away on blogging websites when I should be doing work. MMMWWWWWUUUUHHHAAAAA!! 😈

    Anyway, I’ll make time 4 reading the tip later. It’s just too risky JK! ^_^ 😀 Peace out girl scouts!

  10. I didnt guess that they were having an affair, I thought they were teenagers that were going out, but I see it now! 😛 Majorly bubbly!! 😀 (lol like my blogs name except it’s Majorli Bubbli. hehe) I had a choir concert today I was nervous it was fun (and funny). I finished LEVIATHAN yesterday it was AMAZING!!!!! 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😛 😛 😛 😛 😛 😛 😛 😛 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 😉 😉 😉 😉 😉 😉 😉 😉 but now its over and the next book isnt out yet! 🙁

    really interesting, it makes you always want to

    scott: you should make it into a full novel, through the affair, the crash, the funeral, and beyond!!!

    that would be SO TOTALLY AWESOME!!!

  12. I’ve totaly used that dialoge spine method before but had completely forgotten about it. I was wondering if you or justine could write some advice about exposition, like how to write without it ending up condenced in giant boring clumps because that always happens to me. Thanks

  13. hm i feel quite proud that i picked up on some of the subtle comments from the dialogue story, Again, it was amazing. i decided to try a nanowrimo because i heard about it through you and my friends were encouraging me to give it a go. itll be hard because of school, but i think i can try cant i? haha. anywho, homework to do, but i will be back later to see the rest of the comments. i agree, its fun reading the comments to see other people’s perspectives.

  14. Is this some way of cheating out of giving another NaNo tip for your day, Scott? I’m just pulling your leg, but I just thought you kind of ‘double dipped’ the tip, if you get what I’m saying.

    NaNo is going awesome so far. Thanks again for the tips. 😉

  15. oh wow i totally missed the affair aspect, but i did get confused with the “parents best friend thing” very sketchy. and wow. i mean i got the revenge thing, but i diddn’t realy understand that he wanted to kill the other character because they were seperated.
    talk about forbidden/dangerous love.

    i like it. ALOT. more please moreee

  16. Also, note that I didn’t even notice the resonance of “Don’t let me go down there alone” until El pointed it out in Comment 14. w00t!

    w00t indeed! I’m thrilled!

  17. Congrats El!
    I hadn’t caught that until I read some people talking about it in the comments and then reread the shortstory-like thing.

    I sort of wish he HAD told us what he had in mind. Because if I had the same thing in mind, I would have felt clever, and if I hadn’t I’d reread it from the other perspective. Just saying.

  18. Glad I picked up on the quotes/no quotes piece! yay me! But on a more serious note I am glad to see that I didn’t analyze it too much and that in this case had I read it another time I would have picked up that the dead person was older. I just had passed over the comment that the ghost made saying it was friends with the parent and for this reason I feel that now the gender of the two people could be either one in that when it is between young or teen boys and girls it is more likely that the boy is the more reckless of the two but now that we find that one was older while the other was younger it is unclear mainly because the older we get the more knowledge we acquire and hopefully we don’t make unwise mistakes like not wearing a seatbelt. Unfortunately though in this dialouge piece it was the older person who wasn’t wearing the belt so it confuses me. It is a really great short story and like I said on tip #1 makes me want to know how revenge will come.

  19. Very nice 🙂

    I can’t believe that the “don’t let me go down there alone” thing wasn’t intentional!!! I think that was the first thing that gave me the chills, and when I read it the first time that was when I was sure the dead one wanted the living one dead!
    In fact, besides for the creepy way the drive safely part sounded in my head, that was one of the only reasons I was so convinced!

    Lol, you’re getting so used to writing with such genius innuendos, you aren’t even noticing it.

  20. I wish I didn’t spend so long typing my comments! It can be frustrating sometimes being just one or two seconds too late. :C

    Oh, and I just realized, the live one was eating cold salmon–a dish ‘Served Cold’. Haha!

  21. Totally fawesome story! The first time I read that, I was thinking “Wait, is this person dead?” And then the second time, I picked up on all of the genius innuendos like the “Served cold” thing, and the third time, (I know, I have nothing better to do than read short stories over and over again all day) I got the whole affair side of it. The gender issue is confusing, though. I think it’s a creepy old man and a teenage girl. Reminds me of my science teacher: balding and the type of person who would eat cold fish. Anyways, I LOVE the whole NaNo tip idea!! I’m actually working on a short-story novelish type thing now and what a coincidence that it’s NaNoWriMo. I’m going to use the first chapter as a short story for English class, and hopefully my teacher will assign more short stories so I can do it in installments. Please continue with this story; I like where it’s going, and no cheating out of writing another tip on the next odd-numbered day!

  22. OK, this might be my presumptions coming into play here but:

    I think cold salmon is as clear a marker of gender as it is of age. I’m not saying men won’t eat it but sitting in a restaurant alone, it’s not a part of the picture I’d paint. So I feel fairly adamant that the older, live person is a woman.

    “But it’s not as though . . . you’re eighteen, after all.”//Ah. You’ve been practicing that line, haven’t you?//“Don’t be crass.”

    I feel like “Don’t be crass” also marks her as a woman but more importantly, I think this exchange marks the relationship as heterosexual.

    The practicing line could mean in terms of defending herself (Hey, you were 18, you chose to have an affair with me) but then the rejoinder of don’t be crass doesn’t make much sense.

    To be crass about the person you are sleeping with by mentioning they are 18 – that would be to brag about it, I think. An older woman might brag about her 18-year-old boyfriend (cougar!) but it’s not something I’d expect to see (presuming current day setting) in a lesbian relationship. So I think the dead person is male.

    Love how much detail there is in such a bare bones outline. I will definitely try this.

  23. Hm. That’s interesting, I actually thought the living person was a young woman and the ghost was a guy around her age too. But of course, now that you pointed out some details, the living person does definitely seem older.

    That is really interesting! 😀

  24. See, the only thing I was unsure about was the one thing you didn’t reveal – the genders! I actually started off thinking they were both male, but as the story progressed the living person started to appear more female. (As others had said, the phrases and the cold salmon – and the gin, actually, I’ve encountered more depressed women in literature drinking gin. Men seem to go for whiskey or beer or whatever depending on their class/personality.) If the alive one is male I’d peg him as upper class/upper middle class – again, the dialogue, food choices etc. are not something I’d usually associate with a working class man. The woman could be well-off or not, but if she’s not so well-off I think she might be quite a bit older – at least in her forties.

    And I will now cease the rant. It should really have gone in the previous post anyway.

  25. Just to collaborate on that, Miss Snark always went for gin. And George Clooney, but that’s got nothing to do with anything.

    That was really interesting, Scott!

  26. Oh, by the way, I’ve only just checked my email, so look forward to a bunch of comments all from me. And I’m so glad Leviathan’s out! w00t!

    (I feel so stupid saying that!)

  27. Wow, that’s just so interesting. Thanks for the tips.

    Anyhow, why don’t you come to malaysia? I’m sure many people will be very excited to see you~~!!

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