1. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Can your characters speak TOO realistically?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by jo spumoni, Mar 8, 2012.

    I was trying to write a scene that took place between modern college students. I feel I produced something that actually reflects how some college kids speak (not hard, since I myself am a college student), but looking at it is kind of painful. The characters say "like" all the time, speak with very bad grammar, and just sound kind of idiotic, even though they're reasonably bright and educated. So while I feel like this is how kids talk, I'm wondering if it's over the top and if readers would rather see a less realistic but nicer-to-look-at piece.

    I know it's hard to gauge, so I'll post a little portion of what I have here. It's still very rough, though:

    "Hey," Inez calls as she staggers in. "You guys seen Julie?"
    The boy laughs. "Dude, you are seriously wasted."
    The girl next to him rolls her eyes, and says, "No. I haven't her since this morning. Why?"
    Inez sighs. "I dunno. We had a fight or something and she's been all weird this week."
    "Weird how?"
    "Well, like, sad. She, like, really wanted to go out but then when we went, she didn't want to talk to anyone or anything. And then she got all mad when I made some stupid joke about how she's the only virgin at Avery."
    The three smile, but but then the girl frowns. "Well, like, you know, maybe you made her feel bad. I mean, she's really sensitive."
    "I guess," Inez sighs. "Fuck."

    So what do you think? Is this over-the-top or annoying?
     
  2. UrbanBanshee
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    UrbanBanshee Member

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    I'd say it is a bit over the top.
    If actual dialogue was transcribed it would make little to no sense. We pause, um, er, go off on a tangent randomly, say lots of weird things like "know what I mean?" over and over. When writing dialogue it is important to make it seem real, but much more to the point then we ever really talk. For example, if you make in clear in your writing that Inez is staggering because they are drunk, unless there is a point to be made, or a specific reason, it feels weird to read someone spouting out that Inez is drunk. Even though that really might be how a conversation went. I pause all the time and go "oh cute dog" in the middle of a conversation, but in writing since everything is deliberate it has to much clearer.
     
  3. Berber
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    Berber Active Member

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    As was already stated, fictional dialogue does not work the same way as real dialogue, and rightly so. Real conversations are awkward and clunky; they are either drawn out and repetitive, or they jump around almost incoherently. Try recording a lively, spontaneous conversation with complete fidelity (fillers and all), then write it out like a story. It will not translate well to fiction. You will find yourself wanting desperately to edit it down.

    Good dialogue mimics reality but isn't real. Meaning that people would not hold conversations in real life the way that they do in novels and movies, even though the audience believes that's how they talk. Good dialogue should also serve a higher purpose. We use words to articulate our thoughts to others. Fiction uses words to articulate so much more than that: themes, subtext, foreshadowing, etc. It is deliberate, intentional, and well-thought out.

    So to answer your question: yes, dialogue can be too realistic, and it makes for an unpleasant read. Personally, I find the fillers in your example to be very off-putting. "Well, like, you know" in particular makes me cringe. Unless you are intentionally creating a valley girl persona, I would avoid the over usage of "like."
     
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  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Critique is not permitted on this part of the site.

    But in answer to your general question, yes, it is possible to overdo realism in dialogue. Dialogue should not be a transcript. Dialogue should seek to give the impression of realism, but every line should be crafted by the writer to further the story or the character development.

    So you don't write down every hesitation noise or grunt. For example, many people use "like" as a hesitation filler. It's as tedious as "um."

    You may use a hesitation noise to indicate the speaker is ill at ease or awkward, but once you have made the point, leave it alone. The same applies to swearing. A very sparse use of profanity is adequate to convey that the speaker peppers his or her speach with it. Always understate it to give an accurate impression.

    Present a good illusion, and it will look far more real than a faithful copy of the real thing will.
     
  5. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    There no "ten-second dialog" section in the review room, and anyway, I'm not asking for a critique. I was only providing an example to show what I meant. So far, the replies have been very helpful, much more helpful than when I ask a vague question without providing examples or specifics. Thank you guys.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    To clarify: as an example, the fragment is acceptable. Otherwise it would have been removed.

    Any replies which attempt to edit or critique the example WILL be removed. This is in Writing Issues, so the responses must address the general question, not nitpick the example.

    It's a trend which is getting out of control in other threads, so it's really a warning to other posters who reply to your question.
     
  7. akexodia
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    akexodia Member

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    I could relate to what the characters were talking there. And this is exactly how present age teens talk. No denying the fact. But, when you start to pen down the dialogues taking the shape of a story, you need to polish the dialogues a little. What i mean to say is, one doesnt write the dialogues exactly the same way he/she would speak in real life. A few fragments of such talks scattered here and there in the story would do the trick. But, if you intend to use these frequently, that'd be over doing it.
     
  8. mootz
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    mootz Member

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    If this went on for a whole book, I wouldn't read it. Now, if this was one chapter, or one scene, where it was used as a point of emphasize to show how 'dumb' college students are, that's a different story. Still, it could be cut down a little to have a little less brokenness in it.
     
  9. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I always cringe when I read dialogue in books that is trying to sound youthful. There's a really fine line between coming across as realistic and coming across as forced. As a uni student myself, I understand the language culture you're trying to capture but it will come across as irritating if it's extended across an entire book. I'd say try writing it naturally but don't get caught up adding 'like' and 'totally' everywhere. Hope it helps :)
     
  10. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Unless you live in Madison, Wisconsin. Here we have the epithet du jour.

    One time the misunderstood word of the day was "bourgeoisie." If you had your own politcal views or wore last year's color, you were bourgeoisie. It was a 'worldly' thing to say.

    I reminded one guy that if he was going to college his parents must have money, so in effect he was speaking about his parents and just sounding like an ungrateful brat.

    Now everything is 'awesome.' To me, it just sounds bourgeoisie. Every important person knows the latest concept is "parts bin."
     
  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with most posters who said that the dialogue you quoted sounds a bit OTT. Real speech never translates well in the book, it is the interpretation of the speech, but written for the purposes of reading, that works best. In real speech, people rarely complete their sentences. Also, there is a lot of "um, hm, hah" and things like that. We supplement our speech with body language in real time, and the visual completes the thought just as much as the words. On page, this doesn't happen. Even in the movies, which tend to portray hyperreal situation and characters, condensed and without superfluous, time-wasting and boring moments, so the screenplay dialogue is more "complete" and less slang than real speech.

    I prefer if the dialogue is flavoured with certain words and expressions, but they should be allowed in sporadically, and certainly not too many "like" "whatever" etc, because they just make characters sound a lot dumber (in my opinion).
     
  12. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    This is worded perfectly!
     
  13. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    When you get into jargon, unique to a specific group or profession, then it's easy to loose the reader. It's one thing to sprinkle some well known phrases, here and there to give flavor, but when you drench the reader into something he can't easily understand, then you'll lose them. The pace of the story will stop and start as they try and figure out what a line means. It becomes really annoying.
     
  14. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Only if done poorly. Science fiction (and fantasy, to some extent) are notorious for making up new words and phrases. When done correctly, it makes the world far more immersive. Good storytelling isn't only about using the words you know. Sometimes, it's about teaching readers something new, because the worlds we read about can't always be described using the words we know.

    Grab your "lightsaber," "set fazers to stun," "beam me up, Scotty," "jump to hyperspace"... those stories would not be the same if you used mundane words. One of the things I love most about science fiction is its ability to make us speak its language.
     
  15. Domino
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    Domino Active Member

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    When you're watching a movie, the characters' dialogue flows. Then when you hear the actors who played those characters talking in an interview, totally different story. Ummm. Uhhh. Errrrrr. It's quite odd sometimes, when you're so used to an actor talking so confidently and competently when they have lines, to hear them talking "real" talk. If I'm not making sense, I'm basically trying to say I agree with the other posters. Dialogue should be written the way a character speaks, and not the way someone without their lines would speak. ;)
     
  16. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    I am going to agree with what most people are saying. I think, in part, it is difficult to understand because it is only a snippet of dialogue and we don't have the whole picture. I read a lot of YA literature and I find that authors who try to mimic rather than tell a story are irritating. A particular series I am reading right now is driving me insane with its dialogue. Definitely taking out all the "likes" is a good start. Also, I try to add in some description of movement into my dialogue. (i.e. spinning a piece of jewelry when the character's nervous, running hands through hair), the things people do in real life conversations.

    Hope this is helpful.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You want to read absolutely authentic dialogue, read a transcript from a wiretap.

    After that, you'll never quest again for absolute realism.

    Go for a good illusion instead.
     

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