10 Dialog Beats Contemporary Writers Can’t Use

Do you realize that as writers we have lost whole action steps/plots to technology? Dialog beats are those little actions that you use in dialog to both tell who is speaking and provide characterization. I had a mental image of my 2013 character twisting a phone cord around her. Sigh. Not happening. Now I’ve got to come up with something else. So here are some other things we’ve lost.


Related to the Phone

  1. She twisted the phone cord around her body. What a great way to show nervousness!  I actually used this with a hotel room phone in No Strings Attached.
  2. She slammed down the phone. (Not with a $200 cost and no forthcoming upgrade subsidy)
  3. She knocked the phone off the hook. Our kids don’t know what a hook is.
  4. Her finger dialed the operator, hooking her finger in the 0 and pulling it all the way around. See number 3.
  5. She looked up a number in the phone book. Do 20-somethings even know what a phone book is?
  6. Bash someone on the head with the receiver. I’m sure it’s been done before in fiction noire. Those were heavy receivers.
  7. She stretched the cord as far as it would reach. Gained – Replace with held the phone up in the woods to try to get service.
  8. He twisted the phone cord around his victim’s neck, tightening slowly. How are we going to strangle people now?
  9. The line “He’s calling from inside the house” goes away, since GPS can’t be that accurate. “He may or may not be calling from within 500 feet of your house?” isn’t quite as bone-chilling.
  10. A busy signal. Now we just get people who hit that send to voice mail button.

What we’ve gained…

  1. Cell phones even in remote locations, which can be challenging for crime stories. There’s always the battery died…
  2. Personal databases on cell phones, including calendars, social media, and contacts. A wealth of information for would-be criminals.
  3. GPS – it’s harder to get lost, but if your character relies on your phone maps in the country with no Internet you could get lost even worse.
  4. The fantasy of being unconnected or off the grid. When I was in college, you would go hours without anyone knowing where you were. Friends had a general idea, or you may tell someone you would be at the library, but that was it. Now, not so much.
  5. DNA evidence. That has its own problems.

What we still can’t do….

  1. Predict the weather with confidence. Sure, we get generalities, but we don’t know exactly where hurricanes will hit. They can always turn at the last moment.
  2. Rivers still flood.
  3. Blizzards still hit. (seeing a trend here?)
  4. We can do very little without electricity these days.
  5. Force someone to fall in love.

For more technology troubles with writing, check out this post from 2012 on technology.

I hope you enjoyed this little walk through time. Carry on.

(Picture by ProhibitOnions at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)

What do you think of this post?
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  1. Marissa St James   •  

    Interesting blog. We don’t realize how much technology can affect our writing until we start thinking how many things can no longer be used. (telephone cord) Then again there are some folks who like to hang on to ‘outdated’ ideas and technology. Throw backs are always fun to have on the sidelines. Adds a little something to otherwise modern scenes.

    • Lily Bishop   •  

      You’re right, Marissa. It can also be characterization if someone is holding onto outdated technology. In my last book, my hero called on the hotel phone because he didn’t have her cell phone number. :). Thank you for stopping by.

  2. Victoria Adams   •  

    One of my mother’s friends still has a dial telephone. She has no cell phone. She has 2 grown children and several grandchildren, but none of them have been able to get her to join the cellphone generation.
    Interesting post. Tweeted.

  3. Lily Bishop   •  

    Victoria, you are so right, and many grandparents, even if their kids convince them to get a cell phone, refuse to even turn it on unless they are the one making the call. I think it goes back to when cell phones first came out and it cost 50 cents a minute. I think I was so fixated on the cord because all of the older people in my circle of acquaintances use cordless phones with their landlines.

  4. E. Ayers   •  

    So many of us grew up with those phones that you stuck your finger into and actually dialed a number. If you haven’t used on in ages, you might make a mistake! In our need for speed, we no longer dial all the way to the metal stopper. But what is really funny is watching someone younger use one.

    A small private school had an old dial phone, and every now and then someone would ask to use a phone because their phone was in the car. We’d point to the black dial phone with a three foot cord that hung on the wall. Most would turn and ask how to use it. Many would try to punch the number through the hole. Then they’d get all excited because they had used this old antique phone and it really worked!

    • Lily Bishop   •  

      That’s funny. I also grew up with that type, and you had to sit in one spot in the kitchen to use the phone. My husband’s family all worked for the phone company for years and they all had “low” numbers, which were valued (For example, final four digits of 1131, 1424) because they were quicker to dial. I never would have thought of that but they could handpick their numbers.

  5. Rose Gorham   •  

    Enjoyed your blog. I still have that old fashion phone on the wall in my family room. It’s the only one that works when the lights go out and my cell phone is dead.

    • Lily Bishop   •  

      Ours stopped working a while back, and I think it’s somewhere in the attic in a box. Our current landline phone is through the cable company and doesn’t work without electricity anyway. The only reason we keep it is the alarm system.

  6. celticchick   •  

    I remember a movie–I wish I could remember the title–where a young model was trying to use a rotary phone and she couldn’t figure out how to use that type of phone. It was a funny scene. The movie might have been called In and Out or something like that.

    Great post.


  7. Gemma Juliana   •  

    Very enjoyable read, Lily. I was in one of the most high tech University hospitals in the country six weeks ago, and my eyes opened wide and nearly popped out when I saw a phone that looks like the one above on the side table. Wow, deja vu! Plotting for criminal minds continues to be a challenge for writers, but it’s also good fun. Thanks for the blog post!

    • Lily Bishop   •  

      Thanks for stopping by, Gemma! I have trouble plotting for villains because I overthink things like this, but it’s fun to try to get in their head.

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