1. Nighthunter
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    Nighthunter Member

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    Dialogue - how to know if its good or bad?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nighthunter, Jun 11, 2012.

    Hey!
    Its been quite a long time since I last was on here,
    But I would like to become part of this community again - since I have started writing again recently.
    But I seem to have a really obvious flaw from my perspective and that is writing dialogue.

    It am having the most trouble with making certain characters have their own "sound" - I can give and example by saying that I have been reading George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books, yes I jumped on the bandwagon after the TV show :p and whenever his character Tyrion speaks in the book there is no doubt at all who is it, just from the written words.

    Does anyone share my problem and does anyone have any tips or tricks for how to overcome / work with this issue?
    Thanks in advance.

    P.S I would like to add a bit of my writing to writing workshop to perhaps get some pointers and critique, but I cant seem to post there.
    I have been looking but cant seem to find the requirements, on a small laptop at the moment though so might be me missing it.
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can give each character certain words or phrases that they and only they consistently use. I think mostly you have to really know your character -- know his background, education, ethnicity, area where he grew up, what types of books he would read for pleasure, and know the same things about the people he interacts with the most. All of those things will affect the types of words and phrases that character uses.

    The biggest way to determine whether dialogue is good or bad is to read it out loud.

    As far as the writing workshop, there are FAQs that answer the requirements. You need to have at least 20 posts and made 2 critiques before you can post your own.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The requirements for the Writing Workshop can be found on the site home page. The site rules, and other material you need to know about posting in the Writing Workshop, are contained in a section labeled Important Information.

    You can't miss it.

    As for your dialogue question, dialogue is practically an art form in itself. Don't feel bad if it takes a bit more effort.

    Peoplewatch. Listen to conversations (discretely). Pay attention to how the people conversing phrase thinngs differently. Some will repeat the same words or phrases for emphasis or to fill hesitation. Take note of regional words or phrases or sentence structuring (dialect). Sometimes people will misuse words in characteristic ways.

    Additionally, everyone in a conversation has his or her own agenda. This is an important element of good dialogue, revealing the unspoken agenda. This may be through double meaning, or evasion, or how the person steers the discussion. Word choices can betray hidden emotions.

    Read how other authors handle dialogue. Look closely for the hidden message (subtext), and how the author shows it to the reader.

    Finally, trim away at your dialogue. Remove small talk unless it also reveals something important. You can give the impression of breeziness or of talking just to pass the time, but don't write a transcript. Transcripts are dull. Listen to transcripts of wiretaps, and you'll see what I mean. The illusion of realistic conversation is far better than a literal representation.
     
  4. Lovelina
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    Lovelina Member

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    Great question. Dialogues are tough for me to write as well. I'm curious to see what other people have to say.

    In regard to your particular issue, what I do is that I assign each major character a real life counterpart whose tone, personality and voice I'm familiar with. It could be a close friend/family member or celebrities. I can't always find the perfect personality match though.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm getting better and better at doing the thing Cog mentions above. But the unique voice thing - not mastered it yet. As my dialogue and writing skills in general are improving, suddenly this "voice" in dialogue is starting to bug me, because I can see how identical everyone sounds.

    I think the best thing might be - write it the way you think best for now, finish your work. Then go back over it and think of specific ways of tweaking the voices and wording one by one. Once you become familiar with the kind of changes you have set for each character, you'll likely be able to see it right away without actually needing to analyse and you'll start rewriting whole dialogues, for the better. It's what I'm doing. I've done my first draft and on my rewrite, I'm starting to do what Cog mentioned - eg. revealing hidden agendas, making my characters answer each other indirectly, like real conversations. On my second rewrite I'll look out for character voices.
     
  6. malalalory
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    malalalory New Member

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    Dialogue kills me?

    So, I've always been told I'm a really good writer and I like to think I am. I have no trouble writing like, poetry, and I'm great at writing descriptive and introspective sorts of things, but I can't seem to grasp the concept of dialogue in my writing, which sucks because I have several ideas that I'm dying to get out on paper. I can write introductions just fine, but when it comes to dialogue and moving the plot forward in a narrative, I always get stuck; I'll either elaborate too much on what one character is feeling or thinking or doing, or I'll just find myself completely at a loss for words.

    Help?
     
  7. growingpains
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    growingpains Member

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    If I was struggling with this personally, I'd try script writing. Since in script writing you have to get everything across through dialogue alone (with the exception of a little description) this is great practice ^^

    And then later, once you're done writing the dialogue/script, you can fill it in with the description and paragraphs that you're so good at writing~
     
  8. maidahl
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    maidahl Banned

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    Trying reading sample short stories with dialogue in it. Sometimes, I even look through my Chicken Soup books because there's good examples of transitions between dialogue, reversions to the past, musings about the future, and present action. And I love it when people compliment you! :) Feels good, doesn't it?
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I moved your post to this current thread. Hopefully the responses already posted here will be helpful.
     
  10. Coach
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    Coach New Member

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    I've gotten around this problem by writing stories with pretty much just one character. This isn't a very good way to expand your abilities, though.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly. You'll never improve by avoiding challenges. Kick yourself out of your comfort range!
     
  12. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    In college there were many classes I had to take and one of them was screen and script writing. I had a struggle with dialogue and for 3 main reasons

    1. It has to sound like one is really speaking, not acting
    2. It has to be believable, fictional or not.
    3. Every words must have a meaning, even if it is meaning less.

    There are a couple of ways to go around this.

    First I would suggest finding Moving Scripts online and read the conversations between the actors. If you have to find the movie and watch it and read it, you can see and hear how the conversation words.

    If it is too much of a project, I found one way that works just as good. Talk to yourself. Have a conversation with yourself about how is your day or and idea. You can hear yourself and realize what you are saying and how it matches up.

    If you currently have dialogue. Read it out loud or with a friend. Your friend is also your audience and actor. You can see for yourself how good or bad it is.

    It takes trial and error. i worked with actors and actresses and they had given me pointers to writing the dialogue and the voice.
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The thing that helped move me forward was actually in deliberately OMITTING things. So the trick is in writing less, not more.

    And if you think about what you want the dialogue to convey before you write, it'll come through, and always bear in mind the emotions and things influencing the character who's doing the speaking.

    If you think about the way people interact, we never answer directly - we always answer the question that we read between the lines. Like...

    A: She always says that.
    B: What're you trying to say?
    A: Well, she just does. (alternatively, "Nothing")
    B: Forget I said anything.

    I can't give a good example without having characters and a scene in mind I'm afraid o_O but the above short example is how I'd do dialogue personally anyway. If you notice, the responses are always an emotional reaction to what the character thinks the other is thinking/feeling. B doesn't ask A to expand - B reacts in offended confusion in my case, because they're talking about someone they know and probably whom B is fond of.

    An alternative response I'd go for could have been "What do you mean?"

    Or still alternatively if B already knows what A thinks, B's response might have been, "But that doesn't excuse her!" Notice even this is answering to what A's comment implies rather than directly the fact that A thinks said person always says the same thing.

    Depending on the situation the rest of the dialogue could've gone quite differently.

    You also notice in every variation, every line implies quite clearly the emotion and thoughts of the character who's speaking. A is clearly not impressed with whoever they're talking about, but I never say that. B is clearly protective in the example I chose to follow.

    Quite a basic example I gave. I'm sure there're many others who could write better or give a better example :) but this is mine anyway.
     
  14. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Listen to people and make a mental note of the words they use and repeat, and words they add for emphasis or words that relate to where they originate from.


    People can be;
    passive - and therefore speak in a passive way
    assertive - they speak with confidence/authority they are sure of themselves
    aggressive - bossy, may use a lot of bad language
    timid - very apologetic

    People can be a mixture of the above, depending on the circumstances and what they are faced with, we are complexed creatures.

    I knew a girl once, she was from the outskirts of Edinburgh, she ended, with what seemed to be, every sentence with 'ken';

    'I'm going to the hairdresser's ken. I fancy getting blonde streaks ya ken. Do you think I'll suit blonde hair, ken?'

    If I was writing about this girl, I would leave out a lot of the 'kens' and just add the odd one for emphasis.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "Oh you won't believe what I just heard from Sandy, you know, she's such a gossip, right? Well, she told me Chrissie's knocked up, and it was Jase, right?"

    "Shut up! Are you sure?"

    "Well, it's from Sandy. She always has her ears up. And it is Chrissie, right?"

    "For sure. And that Jase, he's trouble you know."

    (etc)
     
  16. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Yes and I want to emphasize this. Newbie writers often make this mistake in the name of making the dialogue realistic.
     
  17. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    If I write a bit of stinted dialogue I will find someone who I think talks like my character and ask them how they would say... My fb friends are a great resource in this area.
     
  18. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    In my opinion good dialogue is realistic dialogue and doesn't pull readers out of the flow with not needed dialogue tags (e.g. the "ly" adverb variety).
     
  19. Mr.
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    Mr. Member

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    Really not getting the hate here. Leaving out meaningless smalltalk--I can follow that--but very real manners of speaking can add a lot to a story. Realism for me is synonymous with believability, and I find it much harder to believe when characters speak to one another flawlessly as if they'd rehearsed their lines the night before. We don't speak with perfect grammar, and sometimes we flatout make up words. Instead of detracting from the story I think it adds something to the speakers' personalities that can't be conveyed in any other way. Like how I left out the subject in the first sentence. Or how these are fragments. Or how I hid the main clause of the second sentence inside real-looking but grammatically flawed parenthetical dashes. As important as what a character says is how they say it, and I'm in favor of anything that conveys a clearer image of exactly what's going on.
     

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