The coffee shop chat

Coffee has so many roles. Too many maybe. As I sit outside and drink a nice warm cup in the brisk early autumn morning air.

I was watching sitcoms last night – a horrible pass time but one I can do while walking and rocking a sleepy cranky baby – plus there is almost never anything beneficial on tv. But this post is not a complaint about the tv line-up, it is about coffee in our writing.

In both shows that I watched, the actors spent a lot of time sitting around drinking coffee and chatting, telling jokes that we should laugh at. I wasn’t doing much of that, and it got me thinking – why this background for chatter? How about us, as fiction writers, do we use this background often? And what about the shows that actually make me laugh (namely Modern Family and Big Bang Theory) how much time do they spend drinking coffee on-screen? After all, a good script is the basis for a good sitcom, and writing is writing!

My WIP has tea drinking going on, and one lady from France who adores chocolat chaud, alternatives to coffee. Are these scenes painful info dumps with hot beverages as leverage? I hope not, and I’ve worked hard to ensure my writing does not contain info dumps….but sometimes these things sneak by us…

In my own writing I have noticed that info squeezed in through dialogue is essentially an outline. A note to self about  what I wish to write about, not the actual writing itself. This usually occurs in first draft stage, but as the time has gone on and I’ve been writing for longer I have done this less and less often.

When I have a scene with drinking coffee or eating it  must be for a purpose, not just for a convenient chat. In one scene that I can think of my MC is having a picnic with her maid, as a result of accompanying the household on a harvest. She ends up having a bonding moment with her maid and learns that her maid has been trained as a midwife as well. So, we have food and a chat, but I think it’s a natural progression, with a cause and a result.

Food and beverage is important I believe in fiction. It does a lot: sets period, mood, character identification, etc, but I’m worried now that drinking coffee is going to become like the barking dog in the last post – just a backdrop.

What do you think?

Do you struggle with avoiding info dumps through convenient dialogue?

11 thoughts on “The coffee shop chat

    1. Sorry to all for being sooooo late with my replies to you!!

      Cathryn, I have the opposite problem, I don’t think I ever include backstory initially. I have to go back and work it in so the readers will have enough info.

  1. Yes. Although, like Cathryn, my info dumps are usually in the narration. Dumpy dialogue is easier to deal with than narration, the platform of a story. I can shove aside dialogue but when the narration is off, I’m never sure how to regain control.

  2. In doing that Wordle experiment earlier in the week, I realized how often I used the words kitchen, table, tea, and wine, but these are essential to my characters, not just backdrop. Many conversations take place where these elements appear, but I believe (hope) I’ve been sufficiently cautioned about info dumps that I rarely fall into that. But of course, now I’ll obsess about that possibility and have to recheck my ms. 😕

    I have to say, more and more I realize the value of quality critique partners.

    1. Maybe sometimes info dumps are necessary, Linda? Kind of like narration, we can’t know it’s happening. And the silent moments we talked about. So much has to get slipped in unknown to the reader. Alway on the sly, us writers. Kind of like dancers and athletes I suppose , we’re not supposed to show all the effort we put into it.

  3. It sounds a bit harsh to call what you’re talking about “info dumps” I think. Interspersing details throughout the dialogue about what the characters are doing creates a rhythm. With eating and drinking in particular you can tell a lot about how the character is feeling. Are they picking at their food or savouring it?

    Maybe I’ve misunderstood your question. Do you mean that conversations purely for the sake of providing information about the character are “info dumps”?

    1. What you describe, Helen, does not sound like an info dump, it sounds like a scene. I agree with you entirely that food plays a huge role. I do think though, as your last sentence, that the conversation has to happen naturally, because the characters go there, not out of convenience for a writer.

  4. Interesting article, Jennifer. My characters tend to sip coffee or wine rather a lot and I can’t help wondering whether these added pieces of information are reall that important. I’ve always found dialogue particularly hard to write.

  5. Oh, yes, definitely wine. : ) What I always ask myself is: Is this coffee (or wine) drinking in and of itself telling me something about my character? If not, I try to get my character doing something else…or at least something in addition to the drinking.

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