1. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    A question about dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cazann34, Feb 17, 2013.

    I have been told my dialogue is rather wordy and that people just don't talk like that. I quote from Blackstar21595 (I hope he/she doesn't mind) who said:
    Do fewer words get the meaning across? I understand when editing - fewer words are best. But is this true for dialogue. Is getting the meaning across more important than staying true to characters speech patterns?
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Cogito has a thread on dialogue, so you may want to do a search.

    One of the weaknesses in my first attempt at a novel was that I would write dialogue exactly as people would talk. This includes a lot of incidental conversation that might sound authentic but actually doesn't help get the point across. Well-written dialogue does not include entire conversations, but rather is a distillation of them. Side comments, salutations, jokes and the like actually detract from what you are trying to show the reader. Moreover, what is often more important in fictional dialogue is the subtext. Showing things like physical reactions - for annoyance, fear, stress, anger, joy, love - adds depth to the story you are telling and allows the reader to catch clues of the truth even when the speaker is lying.

    In short, you should usually make your dialogue as condensed and concise as possible. You should also use dialogue tags ("he said") when they are needed to identify the speaker and the reader cannot get that meaning from the context of the conversation. Eliminate direct address except when the reader needs to see it (as opposed to when you would expect it to appear in a real conversation).

    Good luck.
     
  3. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I completely agree with Ed's third paragraph.

    However, can I ask where your stories are set? I can't help but notice from your mini profile that you live in Scotland: where (real) speech is naturally 'wordy' and has a unique structure.
     
  4. wavodavo
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    wavodavo Member

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    If several people independent of each other have read your stories and said your dialogue is too wordy, it is. If they say people don't talk like that, they don't. You're basically hearing that you're violating a reader expectation.

    I think Ed's suggestions would be of great use to you. If all you have about you is Scots talking to Scots, you might spend time reading non-Scottish authors and pay close attention to how they handle dialogue. I'm guessing brevity is the key...unless one of your characters is a conummate blowhard who can turn a Good Morning into five paragraphs.

    Of course, there's a limit to brevity. It shouldn't be so short that people are speaking telegraphically ("'Sup?" "Nuthin" "Jeet?" "Nah.") And, you should avoid making sentences so short, standard and austere that all your characters talk alike.
     
  5. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've been told that my dialogue sounded fake too. I've also been told it sounded real and very believable. I've been told it sounded trite/meaningless but by others that it was powerful and engaging. (I've actually had 2 conflicting views on my dialogue from 2 different fiction teachers at the college. Go figure. haha) Who to believe? Who to trust? I've discovered that if you search long and hard enough, you will find many people who will give you just about any view you want on the writing. (Is your dialogue unbelievable? Do people not talk like that? Or maybe it's a good thing that your characters sound nothing like real people since people don't want real people, only they do? Your head spinning yet?) Search long enough and you'll be told just about anything you do or don't want to hear about your story. It'll never be good enough, real enough, or believable enough for most people at any given time.

    I don't really believe in "less is more" in regards to writing. Sometimes, that is exactly the case. Sometimes, it's not. I work towards what works best for my characters and my story. I try to balance realistic speech with the need for keeping it as brief as possible. I've found there's no all-pleasing approach. You gotta just make sure it works for you. Listen to what others have to say, but always remember that everyone has their own take and pleasing one person will often mean not pleasing another. Try to hone your own judgment so you can evaluate whether advice is really helpful to your story or not.
     
  6. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    I never mention where my stories are set. I always leave them ambiguous on purpose. But if I had to nail them down. I would say they're all in Britain somewhere - fictitious towns, cities or villages, all of my own making.

    yeah! We 'love' talking in Scotland. Ten thousand words a second that's us, which makes it difficult for me to keep my dialogue short and concise and to the point.

    Edit: The above paragraph makes my point perfectly. The use of two words, and one expression which mean the same thing. Short. Concise. To the point.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    How I judge the dialogue in a book depends on the author's intent. Dostoevsky's characters represent ideas rather than actual people, so his dialogue tends to be more philosophical. On the other hand, Steinbeck tends to write dialogue by capturing the patterns of actual speech. Of course, this requires knowing the author's intent/background beforehand, and someone who doesn't know much about where Dostoevsky is coming from may be quick to dismiss his dialogue.

    Also, dialogue shouldn't be restricted by length. For example, long passages of speech can be used to show the loquaciousness of a particular character. So having fewer words isn't always effective (both in dialogue and in the narrative).
     
  8. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    I've recently found that my dialogue is not always a reflection of actual speech, but sometimes, more a reflection of how I talk, and it takes me a while to really find the character voices, for each one is just a mirrored image of myself.

    I've found great use in one of the ways my father helps formulate an arguement. He writes down a point of view. Then immediately starts over and writes it again, and again, until one paragraph of 50 words, becomes a sentence of 10, or 7 words, whatever. He's distilled the paragraph into its essence, creating brevity, authority, and clarity.

    You can do this while writing your dialogue. Find a scene where you feel your dialogue is severely lacking and take some time to re-type/write the scene by looking at a hard-copy, and typing it as you read. You'll begin to hear the real message in your mind, since your combining thought with a physical action, and their voices will start coming out as well. You may discover one character talks in nothing but fragments, while the other kind of talks like yoda. I don't know. But I've learned through finding voice, you find things that are more authentic in terms of the character, and what they have to say, thus aiding in helping you figure out what should be said, and what should be left out.

    As Cogito has said, dialogue is not about recreating life-like speech, but mimicing it in such a way that it sounds authentic, but reads entirely different. It has to convey information on all kinds of levels, and every word needs to move the plot forward, especially in dialogue.

    We don't want to hear about your daily activities, or what the coffee tastes like, or that you're pissed about cigarette prices, unless, of course, those all play a part in revealing character, point of view, sub-text, or the resolution of the story.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as noted above, good dialog in fiction is not really how people really talk in real life... but it works, because you can't see the speakers or hear them, so taking out all the hesitations, extraneous words such as 'you know' and 'i mean' and other such stuff we often sprinkle our conversations with gives the readers the 'meat' in an effectively concise adaptation of real speech... and moves the story along more efficiently...
     

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