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Sep 05

How about that weather/sports game/current news topic?

There are two words in the English language that, when combined, make me shudder as if someone is not only walking over my grave but stamping out a samba until their feet bleed.

Small. Talk.

Fairly innocuous words on their own, but put them together and suddenly its like watching an innocent toaster and a harmless pocket TV connect to each other and transform themselves into a fifteen foot…well, transformer…with teeth (and the ability to lightly toast bagels).

Holy crap!

*puts gun in mouth for a quick exit*

Gare are fgree hockigle howthvums…

*takes gun out of mouth*

There are three possible outcomes when someone engages me in small talk, ranging from accepting my fate and turning into a nodding dog to complete meltdown and possibly the death of the conversation instigator.

Let’s take a typical example and see what could happen:

 

Blind obedience

*sigh*

Them: “It’s cold out there today.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

Them: “I can’t believe its winter already.”

Me: “Yep.”

Them: “I’m sure it wasn’t this cold last year.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

Them: “And it’s getting darker sooner already! I just can’t get used to it.”

Me: “Yep.”

*I die a little inside from my cowardice*

 

Mildly perturbed

"Are you serious?"

Them: “It’s cold out there today.”

Me: “What gave it away? The snow or the ice?”

Them: “Haha, yeah. I can’t believe its winter already.”

Me: “It’s December.”

Them: “Yeah, but I’m sure it wasn’t this cold last year.”

Me: “It’s winter; it’s this cold every year.”

Them: “And it’s getting darker sooner already! I just can’t get used to it.”

Me: “You’re forty-two and it gets dark this time EVERY year!”

*I die a little inside from the inane conversation and the ulcer forming in my stomach*

 

WTFOMGBBQ!

grrggaarrrrggg...rahhhh...*crunch crunch* hehehe,,,bwaahhh!!

Them: “It’s cold out there today.”

Me: “Of course it’s fucking cold, its December and its snowing. What a ridiculous thing to say, were you dropped on your head a lot as a baby?

Them: “Erm…I can’t believe its winter already.”

Me: “It’s been winter for fucking months you moron! Its winter during these months every goddamn year and it always has been on this continent! My God, you’re an idiot!”

Them: “Erm…ok…but I’m sure it wasn’t this cold last year.”

Me: *rolls up weather charts from last year and gets ready to insert them somewhere…painful*

Them: *gulp* “…but it’s definitely getting darker sooner already! I just can’t get use…”

Me: *Forcefully inserts said conversation starter into the toaster, whilst manically giggling and chewing at the edges of the aforementioned weather charts. Strips off clothes, smears himself in faeces and dances around a fire made from the burning desks and corpses that once filled the office*

*I don’t die a little inside but I do get a forty-stretch and a bunkmate called Mr. Tickles*

 

Luckily, because I can swallow my anger down where it can only do damage to my internal organs, I rarely opt for option three. In fact 99% of the time I go for option one, die a little inside but get the conversation over as soon as possible.

The strange thing is if you ask someone who knows me, actually knows me not just happens to work in the same building, they’ll probably tell you I never shut up. That is unless I’m there, in which case I probably won’t let either of you get a word in.

That’s because there is a huge difference between small talk and conversation. Or to put it another way – a huge difference between words you need and words you’ve inserted into your novel as a form of small talk.

Because most people are used to small talk – pointing out the pointless and referencing the redundant – they are apt to include it in their work. I’m not just talking about dialogue either, a lot of writers feel the need to add arbitrary details to their book just to make it seem more real, to fill in the blanks or because its what they think the reader wants to hear them.

Just as in real life, small talk is filler material – words that fall out of your mouth when you have nothing significant to say – only useful as convoluted conversation wadding in reality and of absolutely no use at all in the world of fiction. Yes, sometimes details about weather and other seemingly insignificant details will be useful now and again, but that’s the point – they will be useful – don’t include them just because you feel you have to. Include them because they change the mood of your novel, or establish a useful trait of the MC, or because in Chapter 45 the evil clown killer is going to get caught because he left wet footprints all over the library parquet

“I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky raindrops!”

So do yourselves a favour and avoid small talk in your work (ok, it might work during some conversations, but again that will serve a purpose; to show the awkwardness between two people for instance). If you really insist then feel free to carry on talking small in the real world, just try and avoid me on wtfomgbbq days…

Don’t make me put you in the toaster.

7 comments

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  1. Lucy

    *Snort* Do you honestly manage to do number one most frequently? Your tweets and blog posts suggest to me someone a little more flammable!

    I absorb inane chit-chat and eventually wither and give up on life for a few days. Office chit-chat – that’s the worst. Put that in your novel and you’re guaranteeing your reader will fall asleep!

    1. Steven Chapman

      I am in my head and with people I know, Lucy. But I just can’t seem to break free of my timid persona when at work or talking to new people. It’s infuriating because then I have to be twice as grrr in my own time to make up for it!!

  2. Tony Cowin

    I can’t stand small talk either but I guess it acts as a string in real life. It connects people together, though tenuously as that’s all is really needed. Otherwise we’d use the rope of real conversation.

    I can’t even stand small talk written in dialogue to convey awkwardness. I’ve read plenty of literary fic that use this device and it bores me.

    One point- You shout at somebody for being shocked at winter in December by telling them it’s been winter for months. Winter begins in December. I know some people think winter begins in November because of the solstice or something. Which brings me to the point of cold. I think it’s quite mild for this time of year.

    DO you think this means we’ll have a mild winter too? Some people have predicted an Indian Summer. Funny story where that saying comes from. Did you know that…Why do you have a gun?… Why is that bullet flying toward my head?…Oh shit!!!!!”

    1. Steven Chapman

      Shhh, stop spoiling my rants with your knowledge and logic! Why did I forget that? I must have been too occupied giggling at the Picard face palm picture 😀 I guess I just thought it was winter all the time in England and summer for about a week in the middle.

      I agree with small talk being irksome even when it’s used to show awkwardness, I just thought I’d better put that disclaimer in to stop people shouting at me for berating their right to talk small in their own novel. Dialogue in a book should never reflect 100% what happens in real life, otherwise it would be full of erms, ums, and ahs, and nobody would know what the hell was going on with sentences dropping…or the inane repetition that some people seem to enjoy so much, not to mention the repetition that sometimes occurs!

      I keep almost missing your comments, Tony! You seem to be able to post without approval…which is fine because I can’t imagine you’d start trying to sell me Viagra, but also weird because I have to approve everyone else and it notifies me that they’ve made a comment. You dirty hacker, you!

  3. Chippy

    I usually go for option 1 – well my mouth would be saying option 1 but my brain would be thinking options 2 and 3.

  4. Jo and the Novelist

    I find idle chit-chat at the hairdressers the worst:

    Hairdresser: So, have you been watching Britain’s Got Talent?
    Me: No, I haven’t actually.

    1. Steven Chapman

      You should just have fun with them until they get the hint:

      Hairdresser: So, have you been watching Britain’s Got Talent?
      Jo: Is that the one where the chimp fires a gun at the blindfolded goose until somebody wins a prize?
      Hairdresser: Erm…no…it’s the…
      Jo: …the one with Simon Cowell?
      Hairdresser: Yeah, he’s…
      Jo: Where he sits down with various guests and discusses their favourite flesh-eating virus?
      Hairdresser: …what? No, why would you…what?
      Jo: I quite like Necrotizing fasciitis myself…but I guess it’s no fun if you have it.
      Hairdresser: Erm…yeah, I guess.
      Jo: So, have you been watching Monkey Shoots Goose?
      Hairdresser: …….

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