The following is from a story I'm writing:

"Goodbye Choco," my mother said, to end the prayer, “may your soul rest in peace,” and crossed herself.

“Sorry I couldn’t come earlier,” I said. “I’ve been busy.”

“That’s alright, sweetheart. You selected more courses this year?”

“Actually joined a club.”

“Oh, that’s great. You’ve never joined a club before, right? What’s its name?”

“Animal Self-Destruction Observation Group.”

“That’s good. A club that’s not from your department. A completely different experience.”

“Yeah, I like variety.” Luckily my mother wasn’t ‘attentive’ enough to catch the meaning of complicated names.

“Is it fun?” Mom asked. “What do you do there?”

“Well, I don’t know yet—but I’ll find out tomorrow.”

"Please take care in the camping. Did you pack your clothes, sun blocker, your Hello Kitty doll?"

"Mom, I'm nineteen."

"You're right, honey. Sorry. Sometimes I forget you’ve grown up."

"I've noticed that."

“I know sometimes you think I worry too much. But all parents are like that. All we want is for our children to grow healthy and happy. Especially happy. I hope you understand that.”

I nodded. To grow happy. I wondered how Mom would have felt if she’d known I almost committed suicide. How she would have felt if she’d learned I’d been unhappy most of my adult life. The thought stabbed right into my heart. But, well, that was a thing of the past—an ancient tomb buried under layers and layers of sand. At least for the time being.

So the MC and her mother are in the backyard performing a burial for their dog. I feel the mother talks too much like a 'mother' from time to time. I can change it. The problem is that what she says is essential to the plot/theme (suicide).

Is there any way I can work this around?

4 Answers 4


1) Lengthen it. You're not going to have rat-a-tat-tat patter graveside.

2) Take each phrase you feel is clichéd, determine the meaning, and rewrite it in different words. "All we want is for our children to grow healthy and happy" becomes "That's my biggest responsibility and my biggest hope — that my children are healthy and happy, and we didn't break them too much on the way to adulthood."

3) Try the exercise I recommended in my answer to this question, where you and a friend ad-lib the scene and record it. Play it back and see how real, unscripted dialogue sounds.

  • " You're not going to have rat-a-tat-tat patter graveside." Haha, thanks. Now I know how to make the scene funnier.
    – wyc
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 2:57

Oh, you are doing well here. Very well. You are breaking a rule about cliche dialogues exactly where it should be broken.

You are writing a meaningless, dull prattle that lulls the reader into slightly bored indifference and then you drop the bomb of “Animal Self-Destruction Observation Group” which makes me go "What?!" - and then you drop another - “That’s good.”, the mother completely missing it, suddenly adding a lot of depth to the story, by showing how shallow and ignorant a person she is. And from that point on what was so far dull and boring, despite not changing the tone the least bit, looks sinister and gritting.

This is exactly a very well executed trick of lulling the reader into boredom only to shock them out of it. Well done and don't change it!

  • I never thought about it like that. Ha, thanks you lifted my self-esteem.
    – wyc
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 11:04

If do you want to liven up the dialogue you perhaps need to add some conflict into the mother's state of mind. Her input to the scene is sadness and worry, which is a little predictable and one dimensional, and that makes it difficult to conjure interesting expression. The mother could carry other traits or motivations. She may be hiding guilt, regret, a dark secret, or even indigestion, all of which could colour her dialogue either darkly or comically. Imagine the last time you were at a funeral, what else were you thinking about aside from how sad it all was?

You have a perfect opportunity for subtext - she can talk about the dog, while really referring to how protective she feels about her daughter. 'I should never have let Choco off the leash' etc. You have a woman who you might think ought to be grieving, but is actually more fearful for the loved-ones still alive.

No matter how you go about it, having one person refuse to be honest or direct with the other adds immediate conflict which you can use for drama or comedy, and it prevents your characters from stating the obvious. The reader knows the obvious (mothers worry) but is forced to consider the turmoil which prevents the characters saying it.


Actually, there's a social rule of thumb here, that may apply in fiction. That is, to treat serious matters lightly, and light matters gravely. As another answerer pointed out, you're mother's comments seemed "too light," until you drop the bomb" about animal self destruction. Here, the mother ought to get concerned, but she doesn't, a perfect foil to your serious situation. But you've left open the possibility that maybe she is "catching on," and is concerned enough not to show it.

The rest is up to you.

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