No matter how you go about it, a story always comes back to something happening.
But is a what if situation the only the way a story is born?
I have been asked how it is I write dialogue. First let me say, I'm flattered anyone wants to know. Now, I'll tell you: many of my stories are born out of conversation, with both voices speaking in my head. I think in terms of characters, often allowing them to talk until I see what the what if is.
The voices, the mannerisms of my characters, the way they speak, their vocabulary, their slang, are often firmer in my head than the answer to the what if--at least until I get going.
Capturing dialogue is about more than the words spoken. It's about the subtleties of body language and facial expression, it's about point of view, tone of voice. It's about banter, about what isn't said out loud. It's about blocking--the theatrical term for where characters are and where they travel while onstage. It's about where in the world the characters are having the conversation.
Very often, I'll see something or someone which sparks a conversation, and there they are, two nearly living, breathing characters in my imagination.
I talk to myself. A lot. I work the dialogue out out-loud whenever I can. And I read it back to myself. I try to picture the scene unfolding like a film or a stage production to see if it seems forced, or if the tone is wrong.
If I pay attention, if I show them exactly as they are, the dialogue reveals more about them.
And the what if falls into place.