...they sometimes don't say what they're supposed to say. And that really annoys me. It goes like this:
I'm writing a scene. This scene has a specific purpose. I need to convey to the reader that there is conflict between the two characters in the scene, and I need to show that conflict and what's behind it. I also need to set up the next scene. This scene also has to be structured so that my protagonist is active in it, making a forward move with his life. So I put my protagonist in a hallway with the other character, and tell them to talk.
They do not, however, discuss the point of contention between them. No, they chat about all sorts of stuff that's really pointless. Shut up and get on with it, I say to them, striking out all of the things they've just said.
Let's try it again, shall we, boys? Off my pen goes, skipping across the page, quotation marks and attributions left and right, and when I stop to read what I have wrought, I see that once more my two characters are chattering away about pleasant things that have nothing to do with this scene.
One basic problem, of course, is that I'm trying to have my characters speak like real people, who rarely (if ever) get to the point. Real conversations are almost never direct, and real people almost never bring up actual conflict. Why? Because they're real people, and conflict is really unpleasant.
A more clever writer than I could show the conflict in the spaces between the pleasantries (there's some very nice dialog between Charles Darnay and his uncle in "A Tale of Two Cities" that speaks volumes through what remains unsaid), but I'm stuck with my own level of cleverness and so I'd like to twist my characters' arms and just have them say the words I have planned for them.
What they keep saying is stuff like:
"Oh, that Gary isn't such a bad guy, once you get to know him. You should give him a break. I've known him for years."
"Really, well, if you can vouch for him, that's saying something."
"He likes you okay, I think. Hey, are you hungry? Wanna grab a bite?"
when what I really need them to say is more like:
"What's with you and Gary?"
"I hate that guy. I don't trust him."
"Why? He's one of my best friends."
"I don't trust you, either."
That's more like it. Though an even better (and far less "real world" realistic) way to do it would be for my protagonist to grab the other guy's arm and say, "I don't trust you or Gary." It's quicker, it's got physical action (way better than dialogue for showing character) and it gets to the heart of the conflict. It seems so obvious, too.
I have a theory that I write this kind of dialogue-that-goes-nowhere whenever I'm uncomfortable with the conflict between characters. I don't want them talking about this stuff. Which, perversely enough, means that the conflict is something I should have more of in the book.
Which brings me to the real point of this post: Are there ideas you shy away from in your stories? Do you think your stories would be better or worse if you pursued those ideas instead of avoiding them?