A few months ago I was having dinner at a friend’s house when one of their neighbor’s stopped by and ended up staying for dinner. In theory I should have liked this woman quite a bit, and for the record, she was perfectly nice: we had kids the same age, her husband had a similar job to me, we were economically on par, we seemed to have an equal interest in fashion and how we presented ourselves. She told a lovely story about her family vacation that summer and the constellations they saw and it was funny enough and nice enough and she was complimentary to my friends on their children and the food. And you know what? I couldn’t get away from that woman fast enough. I knew, four minutes into that conversation, she was never going to say something that would surprise me. She was intelligent and funny, but the worst thing: boring. I’d rather be around people who I don’t necessarily like but that say things I don’t expect. Many of my friends say outrageous things on a regular basis. They’re not mean or vulgar necessarily (although sometimes), but they surprise me nearly every day. A while back, I met up with a woman at the museum so our kids could have a playdate. I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me, but about fifteen minutes into getting to know each other when I told her I was divorced she said, “Oh. You’re so lucky,” and went on to tell me about her husband who I could tell she enjoyed even if he annoyed her. That’s what I mean by unexpected.
Next time you’re at a dinner party or out at coffee with friends, say something unexpected. It’s usually the thing you want to say anyway but monitor yourself from saying out loud. You don’t need to be cruel, just shoot for honest, and know the best target for these comments is almost always ourselves. And the next time you’re writing a character or scene that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, look back through the dialogue and write it differently. Give them something unexpected to say and see what happens as a result.