Writing Nowadays–The Fast Phone

I recently read a student manuscript in which a phone conversation went something like this:

My cell phone rang.  I pulled it out of my pocket and pressed the “receive” button.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hey, Darryl.  It’s me,” said my friend Grayson in a tight voice.  “How are you?”

“Fine,” I replied.  “You?”

“Uh, I’m okay.”  He paused.  “Look, can you come over?  I think my brother was murdered.”

Did you stay with this long enough to get to the murder thing, or did your eyes glaze over?

This may be how people talk on the phone.  Trouble is, it’s boring to read.  Phone scenes need to run more like this:

My cell buzzed.  It was my best friend Grayson.

“Can you come over?” he asked in a tight voice.  “I think my brother was murdered.”

Much better.  You’re perfectly safe implying the dull stuff.

The same applies to hanging up.  The original ran:

“Are you all right?”

“I’m okay.  But you can just get here?  I’m freaking out.”

“Yeah, yeah.  I’m on my way.  Just take some breaths and I’ll get there as fast as I can.”  

“Okay, thanks.  Bye.”

“Bye.”  I hung up, stuffed my phone into my pocket, and ran for the door, fumbling for my keys along the way.

Too much.  Try:

“Jesus!  Are you all right?”

“Can you just get here?  I’m freaking out.”

“On my way, man.”  I clicked off and ran for the door.

We don’t need greetings or farewells with phone dialogue.



Writing Nowadays–The Fast Phone — 2 Comments

  1. This is frequently the young writer, revving up the motor before actually getting the story vehicle into motion. (There is actually a term for this which I have forgot.) It is like the airplane, taxiing down the runway for what seems to be forever before the wheels lift up and we are actually in the air. It is one of the easiest critiques in the world, to pick out where the work should really start.

    • Scaffolding. In a first draft, we write all that in so we know where all the arms and legs are, what who is doing when, the order in which it happened, etc. Hopefully on the second drafts we can remove the scaffolding and have a clean, taut scene like Steven’s second examples.