Another thing* that can happen is lifeless dialogue. This is easily identified. It is happening when characters sit around and talk about what is going on, when characters simply agree with each other or say things any character might say in any story, perhaps even using cliché. Here’s an example:
“Good morning, Bob, how are you today?”
“Doing great. I am so glad it’s Friday.”
“Me too. I could use a couple of Fridays a week, couldn’t you?”
“I sure could. Hey, by the way, can you believe how Julie called Tim out in the meeting last afternoon?”
“I was stunned. If she ever spoke to me like that in front of the team I’d come unglued.”
“You aren’t kidding! I’d ask her to step out in the hall and I’d let her have a piece of my mind.”
This can be deceiving. It can seem like the ratcheting up of emotion is action or conflict, but it isn’t. It is really only two characters talking about the conflict or action. There is no action on the page and the characters aren’t developing. In fact, what they are talking about – the scene that occurred in the meeting – is what we really wish the writer would write! THAT would be interesting!
I don’t have an alternative example for you on this one. The best thing you can do to fix this patch of dialogue is delete it and write the action and conflict these guys are commenting upon.
There are three options: seduction, combat, and negotiation. Dialogue needs to be doing one of these things. If it isn’t it is probably lifeless and needs to be cut.
And remember, you came to your writing life already knowing how to do this.
*See the blog post “Fixing Dialogue – Part 1”