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Home » Archives » March 2006 » What's On My Nose
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03/02/2006: What's On My Nose

I had dinner at The Stinking Rose last night. Everything there was saturated in garlic and I couldn't've been happier about it. We started with something called Bagna Calda. I believe that means "hot bagna." It was a big pile of lovely garlic cloves. We ended with garlic ice cream. This place was not subtle. They took a theme and they went for it.

I loved it. However, it was the culinary equivalent of an "on the nose" line of dialogue.

"On the nose" is a criticism you might get a lot during your first few years of writing professionally. At least, it was one I got a lot. When a line is "on the nose," it's too literal. A character is saying exactly what they feel, or conveying precisely the pertinent piece of information. This leads to dialogue that feels written and unreal. It also makes your characters sound shockingly self-aware and composed, which isn't very vulnerable and sympathetic of them.

So take that dialogue and scuff it up. Put in hesitations, false starts, embarrassed understatement, hyperbole, misunderstandings, sarcasm, evasion, self-delusion and outright lies. Have characters trail off, interrupt themselves and anticipate the other characters.


CHARACTER ONE: It's not just that I want you. I need you.

CHARACTER TWO: I don't want to hear that. I want you to love me. I'm leaving.


CHARACTER ONE: I know this sounds like, I guess, lust. Which it is. God, it SO is. But there's more. Look, I'm not going to say I need you--

CHARACTER TWO: You need me? Need? That's not what I... Look, I have to go.

The downside is that this sometimes requires more words.

Lunch: canned beets and some couscous salad from the grocery store. It was okay.


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Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program
UC Berkeley
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March 2006

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