Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Movie Script Ending

A Movie Script Ending is a piece of flash fiction from writer/English teacher, Leslie Hauser. This piece grew out of Leslie's novel, Wild Cherries, which she is now querying. She's currently working on a YA. After you read her story, go check out her blogTwitter, or Pinterest. Enjoy!

A Movie Script Ending
By Leslie Hauser

The plane was about to crash. Everyone around me, though, seemed oddly calm. Even Joe, who was seated next to me, seemed at ease. Joe’s been one of my closest friends since our days living in the dorms at Stanford, and he’s always been a laid back kind of guy. I would have figured, though, that something like our plane crashing would have brought about a bit more urgency. Apparently not.

Although mired in panic, I kept thinking how truly tragic this was, our crashing with only about twenty minutes left until we touched down in Austin. I was so close. So close. I’d almost made it to my new wonderful life. I was flying back to live with Joe. I’d just had my first book published and had a new agent and a publisher who was interested in another book from me. I’d just been reunited with my two closest friends—Joe and my other college best friend Claire. For once in my life I felt excited about the future and, well, happy. I was happy.

So of course the universe found this to be an appropriate time to end my life with a plane crash. With my run of bad luck, I could actually understand this cruel twist of fate. But what I couldn’t understand was the fact that everyone was so calm. Even the stewardess just casually strolled down the aisle saying, “Excuse me ma’am, please return your seat to the upright position. We’ll be crashing in just a moment.” Then she smiled and moved on to the next passenger. She was so calm.

Meanwhile, I was in a full sweat, bracing myself and straining my neck to look out the window to see what was going on. Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—it was dark and much of Texas is rural, so I saw nothing but the pitch-blackness. I thought to myself, We are going to CRASH…doesn’t anybody care?

I was just about to tell Joe how much I was freaking out when I saw him take down his tray table.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I practically screamed at him. “You can’t put your tray table down. Everything has to be in its stowed position for the crash!”

Joe laughed and shook his head. “Oh Sam, always the rules follower.”

I guess he did have a point. We were all going to be road kill in a matter of minutes, so the tray table probably wasn’t going to make a difference. And as I was thrown forward in my seat, I knew it was going to be a matter of minutes or maybe even seconds.

Joe sensed it, too; I could see it in his eyes. “We have to act fast, otherwise it’s going to be too late,” he said as he reached for something in the green duffel bag at his feet.

“Act fast?” I asked. What the hell was he talking about? What in the world could we possibly do to avoid death? The only thing I could think of was that he might want to return the tray table to its closed position. Not having a tray table saw his stomach in half would possibly save his life.

But before I could respond, I saw him pull out a book from the green duffel bag. It was a Dr. Seuss book, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? The one with the bright yellow cover. That’s how I know now which one it was, since it wasn’t like we actually had time to read a nice bedtime story before our death. He opened it up on the tray table and said, “Let’s go. We have to jump in now.”

We have to jump in now? I thought to myself. What the heck does that mean? “What do you mean? We can’t jump through a book,” I responded unsurely. I mean, we couldn’t. Could we?

“Yes we can. Just hold onto my hand,” Joe said calmly as he extended his had toward me. I hesitated, which prompted him to say, “Sam, we have to go now. It’s now or never.” Another jolt and I knew we were seconds from crashing into the ground, probably some rancher’s cattle field or cotton field. Or maybe grapefruit? I wondered. Didn’t I just have a Texas grapefruit for breakfast the other day? Lost in my agricultural reverie, I’d failed to see that Joe was still holding out his hand. “Trust me,” he said.

Another jerk of the plane and I knew that I would have to trust him; otherwise I’d be dead. So, as much as it scared my claustrophobic self to jump through an 8 ½ x 11 page—not to mention my confusion at how it would even be possible—I knew I’d have to do it. I unbuckled my seatbelt as Joe unbuckled his; then I grabbed his hand, and together we stood up and jumped into the book.

Somehow, I ended up standing in a deserted, hilly area. I’m not quite sure where I was nor how I had gotten through and out of the book. Or to be honest, how both Joe and I had fit through the page of the book together. Joe. I sensed suddenly that he was no longer with me. However, I became immediately aware that Reese Witherspoon was because I heard her sweet voice declare, “C’mon, Sam. We have to go now. That man is coming toward us.”

I looked in the direction of her outstretched finger and saw the sinister-looking man walking in our direction. Even from far away I could sense he was creepy, with his stringy brown hair and dark tattered clothing. But, where was Joe? “I can’t leave without Joe,” I told her. “I have to find him.”

“We will find him. Trust me.” She gave me that Elle Woods smile as she assured me. And I thought, She’s America’s sweetheart, of course I should trust her. “But we have to go now, before it’s too late,” she continued. I saw the man getting closer and knew she was right.

So, Reese and I ran in the opposite direction. I kept turning my head, seeing the man getting closer and closer. We finally made it to a town and walked toward a deserted strip mall. It was straight out of the 1970s, peppered with abandoned shops. The man was still after us. He was just walking, but quickly closing in on us. Tracking us. Hunting us. Or so it seemed.

So we dashed into a laundromat. Once inside, we ducked into a dressing room that was along the back wall. I probably should have wondered why there was a dressing room in a laundromat, but after the jump into the book and the appearance of Reese, I stopped being surprised by anything. The dressing rooms had brown saloon-style swinging doors on them that only covered a portion of the opening, and there was a bench on either side. We hopped up on the bench so he wouldn't see our feet, but we knew he was going to find us. We saw him walk by the front windows and we heard the slow, sinister squeak of the laundromat door.

At this point, across from us, on the opposite bench, appeared that same yellow-covered Dr. Seuss book Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? It was open to the inside back cover. As we sensed the man was closing in, Reese pointed to the book and whispered, "We have to jump in.” She wanted us to jump through the inside back cover. I hesitated. Again? I sighed. It was scary enough the first time. But in that instant of my hesitation, Reese had already jumped through. She jumped right into the inside back cover and was gone. She’d left without me. America’s sweetheart just left me here? I whimpered to myself. I heard the man's footsteps approaching, and I knew I had no choice but to follow. So I closed my eyes, held my breath, and jumped through the book just like Reese had and just like I had before.

When I opened my eyes, it was evening and I was out on a street. People were milling about everywhere. Celebrities. And next to me, pulling me along from person to person was Reese Witherspoon, dressed now in a fancy ball gown. I looked around and became conscious of the fact that we seemed to be at a movie premiere. Camera flashes hit us from every direction, and all around me on the red carpet were men and women in tuxedos and elegant gowns. Unfortunately, I was still in my gray hoodie and jeans, the same outfit I’d been wearing on the plane. Figures, even in a dream I can’t have the right clothes.

I was being pulled through the crowd by Reese and her bodyguard when suddenly the crowd parted, and Joe was standing in front of me. He was all cleaned up and wearing a tuxedo. I let go of Reese’s hand and ran to hug him. A desperate happiness filled me, seeing he’d made it out of the plane alive. “I told you we’d find him,” Reese said from behind me. Still clinging to Joe, I looked back to see her smiling. “Now c’mon, we have to get inside.” She motioned for us to follow her.

Joe smiled and made a joke about my attire. Then he put his arm around me and said, “See? Didn’t I say you could trust me?” I smiled as we walked into the movie theater, the cheers and flashbulbs growing dimmer and dimmer behind us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree is a complete short story by Robert J. Peterson, a writer from Los Angeles by way of Tennessee. The story is about a ten-year-old boy who needs to do only one thing to make his mother happy: steal a gun from the toughest kid in town. Robert is currently working on a YA sci-fi novel, Omegaball. Enjoy!

The Hanging Tree
By Robert J. Peterson


Mickey Graves liked to eat flies.

Scott met him on the first day he moved into the new neighborhood. He and his mother had moved in the middle of the school year, the previous night, taking a five-room cottage by a forest and near a river in a no-stoplight town halfway across the state. As his mother unpacked a box in the small front room, Scott walked down the single hallway. The cottage smelled like wet phone books and dried cigarettes. Paint peeled away from cracking wood. Floorboards creaked. He was already missing his old bedroom, with its big windows and room for a sitting couch. He turned and looked at his mother, who was staring at the cover of a book she had unpacked, her eyes glazed over.

“Can I go out and play?” he asked.

She blinked, then set the book on a stack. She looked at him and said, “Do you promise to be back before dark to help unpack?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

She nodded. “You may go out.”

Scott jumped over a pair of boxes as he ran out the door, the screen door slamming shut on one hinge. He checked his watch, an analog one his father had given him. When they moved, his mother had asked him to get rid of the watch, but Scott said he preferred watches with hands.

“The hands cut shapes,” he told his mother on the drive, the back seat packed with suitcases and cardboard boxes filled with their stuff. “It’s easier to tell how much time I have by the shapes. Digitals don’t work as well.”

“All right,” she said. “You may keep it for now. But I want to buy you a new one.”

Scott figured he had plenty of time before dark, plus it was after 3 o’clock, so there might be kids his age out playing. He ran down the street. Immediately his kid-radar homed in on someone his age down the block. He was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of a cottage that stood at the foot of a steep hill. Clay pots littered the front porch, some empty, some sprouting brown sticks. Scott stopped in the street in front of the house. They looked at each other. Scott started to wave, then stopped. He realized the kid was older than him. Not by much, but he felt weird waving at an older kid. The older kid waved back. He had blond hair – almost white – cut close to his head. Cowlicks made it spike out in different places. He wore a sleeveless black T-shirt, white-faded jeans with holes in the knees, and sneakers. He had a dark tan and light colored eyes – Scott couldn’t tell what color.

“Hey,” the older kid said. “Ain’t seen yew before.”

“Yep,” Scott said. “Me and my mom moved in a few houses down.”

“You wanna hang out?”

“Sure.”

Scott bounded across the yard and sat on the porch. That was when the smell hit him. He remembered the smell from when his his father was alive. Cigarettes. The older kid pinched one between his first two fingers. Scott sat.

“I’m Mickey Graves,” he said. “Who’re yew?”

“Scott Carpenter.”

Mickey nodded and took a drag.

“Don’t your parents get mad?” Scott said.

“He don’t give a fuck.”

Scott’s nose twitched at the swear word.

Won’t they—he—your dad hear you?” he asked.

“What’cha mean?”

“Don’t you live here?”

Mickey chuckled around his cigarette and said, “Naw, I’m jest hangin here awhile. I live through thar.” 

Mickey said and pointed at the woods by the house. A trail sliced through a cluster of trees and into the forest. “Goes all the way to my house. Git home in ten minutes if I run.”

“Cool,” Scott said.

“You wanna smoke?” He shook his pack so a cigarette jumped out.

Scott looked at it. “No, thanks.”

“Awright.”

They sat in silence while Mickey smoked. Scott didn’t know if it was rude to talk while someone smoked. They watched a few cars roll by. Suddenly Mickey clapped. But it wasn’t a full, flat-palm, end-of-show clap — it was hollow. Mickey was cupping his hands around each other, peering between his bent thumbs with one eye.

“Got him,” Mickey said.

“What?” Scott asked.

“Fly,” Mickey said and worked his fingers around. As Mickey moved his hands, muscle-cords thick as lipsticks popped out of his forearms. He took a drag on the cigarette and blew the smoke into his hands. Smoke spumed between his fingers. Mickey smiled.

“Lil’ fucker’s squirmin,” he said.

“What’re you going to do?”

Mickey spat his cigarette onto the ground, placed his puckered lips on his thumbs, and sucked. When he opened his hands, the fly was gone. Scott noticed that Mickey’s cheeks were round with air, like a blues musician playing the trumpet. Scott’s face made a question, and Mickey pointed at his cheeks with one hand and waved him over with the other. Mickey hooked his arm around Scott’s shoulders and pulled him closer. His armpits smelled like burlap and wet, old socks. He put his domed cheek against Scott’s ear. Scott could hear the fly buzzing around inside.

“Wow,” Scott said, and Mickey bit down with a small crunch. Scott sat back. Mickey chewed twice more and swallowed.

“Crunchy,” Mickey said. “Like Chee-tos.”

“Yeah,” Scott said.

Mickey stood and took out another cigarette. He made a sour face, squinting as he worked his tongue around his mouth, mining something from a molar. He stuck out his tongue. A bright green bit of fly gut sat on the tip of the blood-red muscle. He spat out the fly’s remains and stuck the cigarette in his mouth.

“Come on, I’m bored,” Mickey said and walked toward the trail. Scott followed.

Two huge oak trees arced over the beginning of the trail, their branches casting lattices of shadow on the leaf-covered ground. Mickey led the way, ambling down the trail, smoking his cigarette. Scott followed a few steps behind. He wondered if he was allowed to go in the woods. His mother hadn’t said anything about not going in the woods, so it was probably OK. But he hadn’t actually asked. What if she got mad?

The last time his mother got mad, it was at their father. The last time his mother got mad was also a secret. He and his mother shared a lot of secrets.

“Because of dad,” she said.

He had never seen his mother angrier. Her hands shook as she kneeled next to his prone form, sweat glistening along her brow, lips grimacing around set teeth. She said little ohs and Gods as she wiped his wounds with weird-smelling cotton swabs. He winced and whimpered with each wipe.

“Ow, mom,” he said. “Hurts.”

“Stop moving. I need to clean your wounds,” she said. “Oh. God. Oh.”

Scott rolled his head away from the swab and onto glittering shards of broken glass that dusted the floor under him. He hissed and rolled his head the other way. She pinched his jaw between her thumb and fingers to hold his head still.

“Stop. It,” she said. “You’ll hurt your eyes. God.” She sopped up blood that had collected under his lower lip, revealing a deep cut. She pulled the cut open with her fingertip and saw teeth. “Goddammit. Goddammit. Where’s your father?”

“I dunno,” Scott said. “He went out.”

“Scott, listen to me. God. I love your father very much, and he loves me very much. And you love us both, right?”

“Yes. Mommy, it hurts.”

“Now, Scotty, I’m ... I’m very angry with your father right now. Very. But I don’t, I wouldn’t ever want anything to happen to him. We’ve made a bad mistake, you and me, letting this happen. We might lose daddy because of it.”

“I don’t want to lose daddy,” he said. “Why would they take daddy away?”

She started crying, one of the few times he could remember. “You beautiful child. I don’t want to lose him, either. We’ll—”

Her eyes got big and her pupils got small. Her face turned white from inside and out. Headlights flooded the foyer. She scooped him into her arms.

“He’s home,” she said, already running up the stairs.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Butterflies

Today's story will leave you seeing butterflies! It comes from high school junior (!) Aimee Hyndman, who is an aspiring author in between classes. Hope you enjoy!

Butterflies
By Aimee Hyndman

I see butterflies.

I know you must be thinking: “Butterflies? That isn’t particularly unusual. I see butterflies as well.”

Yes, you do. You see the butterflies of the garden, the ones that exist in our same plane of sight, the insects that spread nectar from flower to flower. Those are not the ones I am referring to. I see a different kind of butterfly. One that is always there even though most cannot see them. They are attached to human emotion and thought rather than nature, and their habits cannot be predicted by a biologist. These butterflies are as unpredictable as humans themselves. Every person has their own butterflies.

I do not know where they come from but I would imagine they come from the same place as dreams and fantasies, some strange other realm that our simplistic, conscious minds cannot quite grasp.

I did not start out seeing the butterflies. I was always a rather odd child, slow to speak, but always thinking. I didn’t see the use of speaking when I was young. I was the quiet girl who sat in the corner, watching the world go by with wide, curious blue eyes.

It was when I was nine that I first saw the butterflies. I was driving with my mom. I remember that it was late at night. There were no stars and the moon must have been in hiding behind a wispy, dark cloud. My mom was distressed by something, probably something to do with dad. She said my father was useless, that’s why I never got to see him, and whenever she was angry it was often because of him. I was in the front seat beside her, my head rested on the window, staring out into the darkness. I think the darkness was the reason the car didn’t see us crossing the intersection.

My mom tried to swerve away from the car but it still broadsided us. The impact sent us spinning across traffic and off the road. The car rolled twice until it came to a stop, flipped over. My mother was thrown from the car.

My legs were a mess of cuts and blood from shattered mirror shards and there was a stream of red running down the left side of my face, forcing me to keep one eye shut. Somehow I managed to crawl from the wreckage and to where my mother was, eyes shut, blood flowing fast from her forehead. Perched on her head was a butterfly, the color of ash. I had never seen a grey butterfly before. I saw other butterflies of the same color perched all over her body, their wings hanging limp. Above my mother’s body, in the air was a bright red butterfly. I watched as it slowly descended towards her head and its wings faded to the same grey color.

There was a bright flash as several golden butterflies appeared suddenly against the black sky. I watched in wonder as they spiraled down and took the grey butterflies in their legs before taking back to the sky. I reached out, wanting desperately for them to bring my mother’s butterflies back. As I did I saw a green butterfly perch on my finger, fluttering its wings frantically, as if trying to help me call them back. In another flash the gold and grey butterflies faded back into the night.

Somehow I knew my mother was dead then, and I did not try to wake her up. My mind was fuzzy with pain and I could not bring myself to move. I lay limply on the ground until darkness claimed me as well, like it did the butterflies.

I thought that the butterflies had been a dream or hallucination at first, but when I looked into the mirror in the hospital bathroom I saw them again. About a dozen green butterflies fluttered around my head and body. I could not feel them when they perched on my shoulder or my head but I could see them. They moved in an unorganized fashion, mirroring the dazed feeling that engulfed my mind. I asked the nurse in the room why there were so many butterflies. She just looked at me oddly, smiled a confused smile and strode from the room. The butterflies that surrounded her were light blue.

The psychiatrist, a man accompanied by a flock of yellow butterflies, said that this hallucination didn’t appear to be harmful. He said there were other people who claimed to see auras and this was likely a thing I would out grow. I grew, but the butterflies did not disappear. My world had become nothing but butterflies. I saw them around every person, all different shades of reds, yellows, blues, greens, purples, every single color in the rainbow and countless others in between. I didn’t see another golden butterfly though for a long time, even though I looked. I never saw the ash colored butterflies either. I suppose that’s because I never saw another person die until later in my life.

I eventually discovered what the colors and flight patterns of the butterflies meant. The colors reflected the general personality of a person, the flight patterns changed according to emotions and moods. If a mood swing was strong enough, the whole color of the butterfly would change. It was fascinating to watch just one person for a short time and watch how they reacted. People didn’t know that when I talked to them I knew what they were feeling.

I remember well the day I first saw a person surrounded by black butterflies. I was fifteen at the time, and I was taking a shortcut through an alleyway to my house. The man was crouched in a corner, adorned in the ripped clothes of the homeless. He reached out a hand and asked for food or money.

I took a step back, my green butterflies, fluttering uncertainly. There was something foreboding about the black butterflies and something sly about his grin.

He told me to come closer and I shook my head.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

I didn’t answer him.

“Don’t you speak?”

I stayed silent.

The man got to his feet, looking angry “I asked you a question girl.”

I took two steps back but still did not answer. My eyes were narrowed in reproach.

The man reached down and brushed his coat aside. I caught sight of the shiny, silver barrel of a gun. Without pausing I spun around and ran back the way I came, my heart pounding against my rib cage.

The man shouted obscenities and curses at me. He yelled for me to come back. There was a sharp crack as he fired his gun, but the bullet hit the ground instead of me.

My butterflies flapped frantically beside me, flying so fast that they left green trails behind them. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a black butterfly almost light on my shoulder and propelled myself forward. The man cursed again.

I skidded around a corner and onto the street, almost slipping on the pavement as I did. As I made it to the sidewalk, the man skidded out from behind the corner as well. My foot caught on a grate in the ground and I tripped, skinning my knee on the rough cement.

The man saw me fall and he grinned and started towards me. Then something amazing happened. I heard a car horn blare and the squeal of wheels trying to stop quickly. A car plowed into the man, sending him flying several yards, back into the alleyway.

Trembling I got to my feet and walked slowly back towards the alleyway where the owner of the car was climbing out looking shell shocked and petrified. I peeked around the corner and saw the man with the black butterflies lying on the ground. They were slowly lightening in color, going from dark obsidian to ash grey. One by one they sank onto the body.

A familiar gold flash lit up the sky and I watched in wonder as the golden butterflies appeared. I was so transfixed by how beautiful they were, glowing as bright as stars. They took away the grey butterflies, the same way they had done the night my mom died.

The owner of the car frantically pulled his phone out of his pocket and moved to dial 911.

“It’s no good” I murmured.

The owner looked at me in surprise “Wh-what do you mean?”

“It’s no good” I repeated as a flash lit up the sky and the golden butterflies disappeared. “The butterflies are gone.”

Then I turned and walked away. A green butterfly lit on my shoulder, its wings folded and a smile touched my lips.

I will see them when I die, the golden butterflies. It is an inevitable but hopeful truth. Somehow that is a comfort to me.

When it is time I will gladly go with them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Is This Meaningful Dialogue?" She Asked.

Last year I wrote a post on fixing minor writing problems called Band-Aids that should be employed during the revision process. I thought of that post recently because I've noticed that too many manuscripts I've requested in the past few months were rejected for very "Band-Aid-like" reasons, which unfortunately means the writing wasn't quite good *enough*. (Never an easy rejection to write.)

One issue, however, stood out in particular and I realized it's not one I covered in my original post: Dialogue.

Dialogue is a tough thing to write, and it's even harder to write well. Like with the other Band-Aids, I can't promise a quick fix will solve any larger problems an agent or editor may have with your work. What I can do is make you aware of the most common pitfalls I see when it comes to writing dialogue.

1. Too realistic.
I mean, we all use modifiers before we speak usually. And we don't always use proper grammar and we begin sentences with conjunctions and we can run on and on and on because, um, we just do, OK? Sometimes we don't know what to say next, so... we use ellipses to visualize our lack of certainty or add the words "um" and "like," but um... this is, like, super annoying to read and usually the Very Important Thing your character is trying to say ends up getting buried in the very real way he or she is speaking. So, ya know, cut it out maybe?

As annoying as that was to read, it's actually how most people - not just teenagers - speak. We all do it. Let's not pretend otherwise. We all have our bad speaking habits that are hard to break. When writing dialogue, we're given an opportunity most of us don't get in real life - we can edit out those bad habits. Using slang, dialect, and other "realistic" speech patterns is all well and good, but be careful not to let it take over the narrative. Readers need to be able to hear what your characters are saying. If they're well-drawn enough, you won't need to rely as much on creating realistic dialogue to make them seem real. Don't delete every "gonna" or "kinda," but use them sparingly.

Remember that these characters aren't speaking to us out loud. Our brain has a tendency to demand cleaner language when reading words on the page. We're more forgiving in person because we can't physically see the inaccuracies or "um"-like filler. Sometimes being "real" is the same as being "distracting."

2. Too unrealistic.
This is what I'll call the Wayne's World Scenario (watch this clip to see why). For example, lines like:

"I don't know, Dave, what do you think?"
"My maternal grandmother, Rose, lived in this house since 1927."
"I haven't spoken to Chris since he cheated on me with Lindsey. I hope it's not awkward when we work together on that school project."

Assuming the above sentences were spoken to someone the character knows, it feels strange that the other person would need so many irrelevant details. The problem with the first example is that most people don't say the name of the person they're speaking to unless they want to emphasize something or get their attention. The next two examples are victims of info-dumping. If we, as the reader, need to know specific dates, character relationships, or back-story between characters, it should come out throughout the narrative in a more organic way. Relying on dialogue to convey these types of details feels forced and misplaced.

Dialogue between characters should be fluid and natural, while slowly building the plot. It should not be full of back-story or excessive foreshadowing. Your characters are more than vessels to carry information. They need to be as three-dimensional as your reader is. As I said, dialogue does not need to be 100% realistic, but it does need to be about 90% realistic. Different types of people speak in different ways. Dialogue can be used to show individualism while still being used to advance the story. Let your readers know who your characters are on a level they can relate to so they will care about what they have to say.

3. Too tedious.
Too many times, for lack of a better phrase, characters are just boring when they talk. If I'm left wondering why two characters had a certain conversation, that usually means it can be cut. Dialogue needs to either help develop a character or help develop the plot, preferably both simultaneously. If it does neither, delete it. For example:

"How are you, Mary? What did you do today?"
"Hi Joe. I went to work and then took the kids to dance class."
"Tell Bob I said hello. See you later."
"OK. Bye!"

This scene shows that Mary and Joe are friends, possibly neighbors, but how necessary is that exchange to the story? If a piece of dialogue could be explained away with paraphrasing, always paraphrase to something like, They explained pleasantries and then [one of them said something very important to the plot!]. We don't need to see everything that happens. Books are not real life. Some exchanges can be left to the imagination or simply assumed.

Weak dialogue could make or break an agent's decision on your manuscript, even if the idea, execution of the plot, and character development is all there. Dialogue is part of the narrative. It's a key factor in how the book is read and enjoyed. It's also hard to teach, but hopefully these examples will help if you're not sure about how to effectively use dialogue in your novel.

PS: To anyone who wants a quick master class in writing dialogue, I suggest doing a close-read of J.D. Salinger's short story, A Perfect Day for Bananafish. There are many reasons to love this story, but one thing I always admired about it is that it's told almost exclusively in dialogue. Too much dialogue in a row can get taxing to read, but Salinger finds a way to make it work. He's not only writing chit-chat between a mother and daughter, nor is he creating a conversation full of back-story that diminishes the shocking ending. He makes it work for two reasons - and it's the two things every writer needs to do no matter what they write: Choose your words carefully and trust your reader to see what's left unsaid.