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The following dialogue is from a novel I'm writing (first draft):

"You're quiet tonight," Erin said to Benjamin, who seemed to be lost in thoughts.

He looked up and took a sip of his drink. "I'm a bit tired, that all."

"Too much work?"

"Yeah, it's killing me, you know. My boss should really hire more teachers."

"Why don't you find something else? You've been doing this for a while. I bet you can find something better."

"It's hard to find a job these days. What if I quit and can't find another? I don't want to end up sleeping in a park and drink cheap sake from a paper bag."

Erin laughed. "That would never happen. No matter what, you can always move to my place."

"I don't think that would be a good idea. You know what they say: living together before marriage kill relationships."

...

"By the way," Erin suddenly said while tracing circles on the rim of her glass, “is that new co-worker bothering you? You know, the one who talks to you all the time."

Benjamin took a sip of his drink. "What's wrong? You're jealous?"

"Nah," Erin said, looking to the side, "just asking."

"She's just talkative, that's all. Besides, she's new. She just want to learn as much as she can."

"I see," Erin said, half-smiling.

"You never ask these kind of questions," Benjamin said with a suspicious look. "Is there something wrong?"

...

"That's right," Benjamin said after a moment. "Did you feel the earthquake last night?"

Erin was about to sip her glass but then stopped. She looked up, and stared at Benjamin with her lips slightly parted. Am I the only one who missed the earthquake? She wondered if she was indeed living in the same city as everyone else.

Each part of the dialogue reveals something about the characters. But I feel the first part is very dull (I guess the second part is more exciting). And the third part is the "climax" of the dialogue.

What should I do in cases like this? Should I remove the dull part completely or should I keep it?

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Edit. Edit, edit, edit, until you love your work through and through, or until the deadline arrives. –  Aerovistae Feb 5 '13 at 2:56

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

You should watch - or maybe better read up on - Hitchcock's movies. Build up a sense of normal, dull life, then shatter it. The more standard, dull the image, the harder the blow hits, the stronger the effect.

Of course don't overdo it, don't just bore the reader, but setting up the pristine stage for a disaster is an essential step. Add some good foreshadowing and make it ring now and then in the dialogue with the reader realizing but the characters oblivious to it, and you are sending cold chills down the reader's spine.

A dull dialogue may be an immensely powerful literary tool if applied correctly.

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Sounds pretty good, in that I can kind of picture the scenes. (Of course, I actually know a couple with these names.) If you're worried, though, play around a little with the scenes. Record yourself saying the dialogue out loud. Then playback, listening with fresh ears. (Kind of like when you revise.) Listen for anything that sounds too stilted & edit. Take a break if you need it. One teacher advised our class to carry a writer's notebook (memo pad, journal, whatever you like). Go out and observe. Jot down ideas, snippets of overheard conversations. (And snippets - you don't need to transcribe word-for-word. Add a general descriptive or two of who's speaking - young/old, male/female, friends/strangers, etc. You're just giving yourself a little context.)

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It does depend a little on the genre of your story. If this is supposed to be an actiony-crime-thriller, you probably should cut it. If it's normally slower-paced and this doesn't seem too out of place, it should be fine if it isn't too long.

One thing, though. Give them actions that have nothing to do with their drinks. Have them tap their fingers on the table, play with their hair, adjust their clothes, but the only actions that don't have to do with their face in this excerpt are about the glasses they're holding. Make sure you don't rely too much on one thing--it gets repetitive.

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It's pretty readable as is (aside from a few grammatical errors in the dialogues that may be intentional) - not boring.

That aside, as the other answers mention, even the fastest paced action story/movie has some slow spots to provide context and motivation as well as to just let the viewer/reader catch their breath.

The characters also need time to absorb what has happened to them so they can change and not just proceed exactly as before because they haven't had time to process anything.

Non-stop action becomes boring when there's no time to consider the consequences, to start wondering what's going to happen next. The reader has to understand (or think they understand) who the characters are and identify with them so they care about what happens to them. To do this with any degree of depth almost always requires some "slow" spots.

One book I liked started with 10 or 15 pages of description of a throne room to the point where you could almost see every jewel on the columns. Absolutely nothing happened, but it was fascinating none the less.

Also, I remember seeing The Deer Hunter. The start of the movie has action, but it's a wedding that seems to have nothing to do with what the "real" story is about - could be misconstrued as boring/irrelevant. But, I remember thinking, "My God, if this part is so real and so well done, how am I ever going to deal with it when they get to the part about the Vietnam war!"

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Yes, dull dialog should be removed completely (or transformed to interesting dialog).

That said, I assume you misunderstand "dull" in this context. As always in fiction it's the conflict which drives the story. And your first part has conflict:

"Yeah, it's killing me, you know. My boss should really hire more teachers."

Conflict: Problems with the boss

"Why don't you find something else? You've been doing this for a while. I bet you can find something better."

Conflict: Boy-friend sets her under pressure getting her ass up to search a new job.

"... No matter what, you can always move to my place."
"I don't think that would be a good idea."

Well, if that isn't a classical conflict, I do not know, how you define one.

Don't shoot all your ammo at the beginning. You want to increase suspense, so start low and add up piece by piece. It looks like you are doing exactly that.

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I agree with Lauren's answer: You need highs and lows in any story. As long as you're not boring the reader, maybe these excerpts are just low points.

But momentum counts for an awful lot, and it's difficult to judge how "dull" these actually are out of context. For example, when Benjamin looked at Erin despite being lost in thought, did that have significance? When Erin missed the earthquake, was that typical for her or was it an alarming exception for a character who's normally observant?

If you set up these dull moments properly, they might not be as dull as you think.

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If it's important to character or plot, liven it up a bit. Dress it with stage business. Add some thoughts or descriptions of the setting.

I don't find it particularly dull in context. Not every conversation has to have fireworks going off. Sometimes you just have a quiet moment between two people.

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