Should I change this line?

I’m about to submit one of my stories, and Mr. Rilch objects, strongly, to a line of dialogue. Now, let me make it clear that this is not a matter of “How dare he criticize anything I write!” I’m always open to critiques of my work, and I’ve happily made other changes that he’s suggested. Before I go any further, here’s the line and the context.

Teenage couple. She feels, for reasons too complicated to get into right now, that she might be his Ms. Right Now, rather than Ms. Right. “What’s the catch?” she asked. "To you going out with me."

Mr. Rilch says the line is “lame. Stupid. Change it. No one would ever say that.”

Except that HE did! Years ago, when we were first going out, he had the same doubts, and said those exact words! And he’s read this story before, and never objected to the line, and furthermore, never disputed me when I recalled the incident to him. Now all of a sudden, it’s too unrealistic for anyone to ever believe?

It would not be impossible for me to change the line, but it would be pretty darn difficult. It’s the crucial statement that brings the perceived inequality of their relationship out into the open, and if I changed it, I might have to rework the whole scene. And I say again, I don’t see how it can’t ring true, when it was spoken in real life.

So I submit to you, Dopers: Should I change the line? (And if I don’t change it, should I use a question mark or stick with the period at the end of the second sentence?)

It sounds like something that a perceptive teenager would say. Keep it.

It’s an awkward line, but that’s OK - people often speak awkward lines, especially in awkward moments like that. Still, as a writer, you might want to stress that the awkwardness is intentional and not a sign of sloppy writing. Put the question mark at the end, and consider using modifiers or interjections:

What’s the catch?" she asked. "I mean, um, to you going out with me?"

Hmmmmm…I’m not saying no to you, either, but I liked the idea of its being awkward because she was so blunt. And the reason she’s blunt is because she feels she has one chance to get this out in the open, and doesn’t want to hedge. Not that your suggestion is without merit, of course.

Probably reads all right in dialogue but without more context it seems odd to me. “What’s the catch?” to me implies that he is doing something for her and she wants to know what’s the price she has to pay. Now if I am the guy in the scene and I have asked her out I would not know what the hell she was talking about. If I was the local stud and she had asked me out then it would make sense. What do I expect for going out with “her”.

Ah. Well, the context is that they’ve been dating for a while, but he’s famous and she’s not. She’s also an insecure 14 y/o, so she can’t shake the fear that at any moment, he might tell her it’s been real but he’s moving on. So the “catch” she’s worried about is, will she have to put out or else, or does he only like her for her looks and he’ll upgrade to someone prettier if he gets the chance, or is he toying with her for the fun of it, or…whatever, she just wants to know.

How about removing “She said”?

“What’s the catch . . . to you going out with me?” The speech tag makes it seem more awkward than it is.

Even better?

“What’s the catch?”
“To you going out with me.”

Chuck, you are a genius!

Hey, I’m a professional. :slight_smile:

Yep. Chuck wins. Well done.


Professional genius? Nice gig.

RealityChuck already perfected your line, but I feel compelled to point out that often, things that were said in real life make some of the least believable fictional dialogue. Reality and verisimilitude are two different things.


Every beginning writer should have this printed out and pasted on their computer screen.

And Rilchiam, you could have decided to write your line this way.

When you go to that site, skip the first post for the moment and go to the second post, “MID-TERM EXAM (Summer Session)” and take the quiz. Then go back to the first post to see how you did. Then read the fourth post, “Opening paragraphs of recent PODs that yielded an abbreviated read.” Then purge.