1. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Keeping dialogue interesting.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Flashfire07, Sep 8, 2011.

    Dialouge is one of my many weakpoints, it's a vital part of any story and if done poorly takes the reader out of the action and harms the story. My dialouge... is beyond poor, it's unreadable (I can whip up a quick dialouge if examples are needed)! Does anyone have any advice on how to write decent dialouge?
     
  2. NaughtyNick
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    NaughtyNick Member

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    I am in a similar boat. My conversations started about as being clunky and forced, but, after a little revision, they have escalated to the giddy heights of being average. I am hoping that, with each revision they will flow more seamlessly until they become works of art. You are right, for the first time writer, dialogue is one of the most difficult aspects of story telling to perfect. Don't give up.
     
  3. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Good dialogue skips the hi, how are you small talk and delivers tension. When character are just chatting about nothing it's boring.

    Dialogue can show character. Someone who talks painfully slow could be depressed or socially inept. Someone who enuciates every word clearly with a clipped tone could be angry.
     
  4. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Make it sound natural! If you need to think hard about what your character is going to say then it's going to feel contrived to the reader. Conversation should flow easily and not feel out of character. I find dialogue comes to me instantly - I don't need to even consciously think about the conversation as I just hear the words in my head in their voices.
     
  5. NaughtyNick
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    NaughtyNick Member

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    I think it's easier for girls because they talk more. I prefer long periods of contemplative silence, punctuated by the occasional scratch of the head or adjustment of the glasses. Maybe even a burp. Unfortunately, this kind of thing does not seem to translate that well to the pages of a story.
     
  6. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    I think that in the early stages of your writing 'career', it is best to stick to the rules that apply for all areas of writing, and worry about crafting witty dialogue later.

    *Everything you write should progress the story.
    *Everything you write should hold the reader's attention / interest.
    *Everything you write should be relevant (if your MC is in the middle of a war, don't have him / her start talking to someone about what's for lunch. Unless they are that confident of winning, which could be quite an interesting trait in fact)

    So on, so forth. Keep it simple, and safe, and learn from the critique offered on the forum, as well as from the books you read. Once you're confident enough, change that 'safe' dialogue for similar, yet far more captivating, speech.

    Hope I helped :)
     
  7. Lalli38
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    Lalli38 Member

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    Hello all,

    Definitely some great advice here. I seem to have the problem of just writing whatever comes into my head and then revising, and revising, and revising, etc etc so that my story winds up something quite different from what I had originally intended. My dialog is a total weak point, especially due to my obsessive revision. DBTate, your advice is great. I will try to think of all of that consciously as I am writing from now on. I guess I need to come to terms with the fact that eventually, some day, someone may actually read what I write. =P
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree about the part that even to me it comes instantly, but that doesn't mean I'm confident about the quality of it. I would like to get better at it too, but I guess it is something that comes with experience.
     
  9. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not all. ;)

    Anyway, good dialogue has got a point to it and drives the story forward. It's not a realistic reflection of speech as such.
     
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    maybe that is even av advantage for guys, because possibly girls include a lot of small talk in their dialogue, while guys get the message through in fewer words? Just an idea :)
     
  11. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    As I've been taught, dialogue is indirect whereas conversation is direct. Conversation is full of formalities and echoes of words while dialogue is oblique and concise. Just an example.

    Conversation:

    Jon: How are you doing?
    Steve: Good, how are you doing?
    Jon: I'm doing great, how's the wife?
    Steve: Not good actually, she's sick right now.
    Jon: Oh my, how bad?
    Steve: Yeah she's okay I guess.

    Dialogue:

    Jon: Hey how are you doing?
    Steve: Oh, hey. I'm okay I suppose.
    Jon: What's wrong, something bothering you?
    Steve: My wife is sick.

    I don't have it mastered down myself, but this is what I learned about dialogue.
     
  12. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    A way to make dialogue interesting is to make it oblique. Give the characters their own scripts with different motives, etc.

    "How are you feeling today?"
    "Oh, sorry. Didn't see you there."

    Oblique dialogue doesn't meet head on. Questions are answered with questions. Misunderstandings abound. The dialogue crackles with tension as a result.

    Edit: beaten to the punch.
     
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  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    For the purposes of a novel, I would say that the terms conversation and dialogue are interchangeable--what I guess we mean is, simply, how to represent characters talking to each other.
    As well as the good points DBTate gives, an important function of dialogue can be to indicate character and mood--so it's important that you don't have every person speaking in exactly the same way all the time, unless you are trying to show how alike the siblings, friends etc who are talking are. I don't mean use phonetic spelling for accents or anything, just that people have individual turns of phrase and rhythms to their speech. Listen to a group of people talking and you'll see what I mean.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, please. :) I can much more easily give advice if I'm addressing it to an example; an example would be great.

    In my case, I enjoy dialogue, as demonstrated by the number of dialogue-only pieces that I've submitted to The Review Room. :) My problem is often the opposite one - adding actions to go with my dialogue without feeling that I'm just putting the in there by rote.

    ChickenFreak
     
  15. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    I was wondering did you study On Writing by Sol Stein? He uses "oblique" to describe dialogue and in one of the chapters, he discusses the Actors Studio Method of developing plots which is giving your characters different scripts.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Dialogue is an art within the art of writing. Dialogue is not simply a transcript of conversation. Dialogue is purposeful, to advance the story, develop character, convey complex or conflicted emotions, or to expose tension.

    There are entire books written on the subject. You cannot learn how to write dialogue from them, but you might get a better idea of what to look for when reading other authors' use of dialogue.
     
  17. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    The best way to learn how to (and how not to) use dialogue is to read. Read lots of different books from different authors and note the ways that they use dialogue in their stories. Sometimes you don't even have to read the entire story. Just open a book up, find some dialogue and read!
     
  18. huskies
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    huskies Member

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    I agree with this, do you have an audiance in mind? If so maybe read some dialogue and get a feel for how it flows.

    I always have the conversation in my head and if it flows it goes lol
     
  19. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    Also, it pays to read the dialogue you've written out aloud. So that you can get the feel of it and also to determine whether it actually flows and isn't too choppy, or too long winded.
     
  20. Summer
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    Good written dialogue typically does NOT follow how we speak. Remove anything unnecessary (remove noises that are not words and communicate them to the reader through dialogue tags or other words surrounding the spoken parts; small talk; conversations that don't matter to move the plot forward).

    It usually flows better and has more purpose--people tend to speak excessively long to get a simple point across--so make your dialogue straightforward. It probably wont sound like a natural conversation but it still feels like one. Watch some movies or TV and really asses how they are talking--most people don't talk as clear and straightforward as they do in real life but (for the most part) it sounds believable.

    With that said, it doesn't really make dialogue any easier to write. I am not good at it AT ALL.
     
  21. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Dialogue must be like a surgeon's scalpel-clean and precise. It must convey a certain message, and convey it in the simplest way possible.

    Don't have long strings of dialogue about the main character's mother asking her what her day was like, unless you want to convey that the mother, for instance, is kind and always interested in whatever her daughter's doing. Even then, keep it clean.

    Example:

    Bad Dialogue:

    "So, honey, how was your day?"
    "Oh, it was good."
    "Good? How good?"
    "Pretty good."
    "Anything interesting happen?"
    "Well, we were playing in dodgeball class and then this kid crunches a dodgeball up my nose."
    "Oh my! Are you injured?"
    "Kinda. I could do with a band-aid."
    "They're in the medicine cupboard."
    "Thanks!"

    Good dialogue:
    "Hey honey, how was your day?"
    "Good, but this kid shoved a dodgeball up my nose during P.E."
    "Oh dear! You should get some band-aids from the medicine cupboard."
    "Yeah, okay, thanks!"
     
  22. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    I've read it, plus a number of other how-to books. I notice the two techniques often in my favorite books.
     
  23. Midnight_Adventurer
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    Midnight_Adventurer Active Member

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    Lately I've been doing dialogue exercises where I think of two random people, put them in a location start a conversation and just let it flow. I try to minimise the use of tags and focus on expressing through their dialogue. I've actually found this technique extremely fun and interesting and it actually helped me out today with my current WIP :)
    I'd recommend giving it a go and seeing if you can get dialogue flowing naturally.

    Good luck! :D
     
  24. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Thanks for the advice so far, I think my trouble is that I'm stuck in the writing style I had to adopt for my last year of high school, everything had to be short and spelled out, or padded out for word limits, writing 'good' dialogue is tricky for me at the best of times. An example of what I usually write is something like this (sorry for the bad formatting, I'm half asleep) :

    "Look, Cody, you know as well as I do that driving halfway around the country, dashboard full of pills, .45 caliber handgun ammo and a knife used to defend divers from sharks is going to end badly"
    "Hmmm... yeah we should out it in the boot..."
    "No! That's almost as bad, that way it's obvious we tried to hide it, are you... no, I already know the answer to that"
    "Answer to what?"
    "Nothing. Maybe put in a false bottom to the boot?"
    "We don't have time for that Javier!"
    "Ok then Captain Fantastic! What do you suggest?"
    "I carry the gun, you shove the pills down your pants. Easy"
    "I have to drive, and I'm not trusting you with a weapon"
    "You can drive with those down your pants, it's fine"
    "Not if we get pulled over damn it!"
     
  25. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Flashfire, that example doesn't really work IMO for several reasons. The most offputting thing for me is that there is little real indication of what the characters are doing and feeling. I dislike a slab of dialogue planked down like that with no framework of action and scene. Another is that it is hard and tiresome working out who is saying what--I'm not a fan of overuse, but speech tags, x/y said etc really perform a necessary function for the reader. You also have unnecessary wordiness and humming and hawing--as has been mentioned on the thread, you are not trying to transcribe actual speech, you should give an impression of natural speech.

    I'm absolutely not saying the below is great, but I don't know much about your characters or where they are. You can add in a lot more atmosphere. Also, 'boot' is British English, and 'pants' is American English, so which one are you going to use? You can't mix the two like that. And do people really say 'damn it' like that when they are under stress? It seems a bit mannered.

    "Cody, driving around with drugs, ammo and a knife is going to end badly."
    Cody knit his brows. "There’s the boot..."
    "No!" said Javier. "It's too obvious... unless we put in a false bottom?"
    In unison, their gaze swivelled from the car to the greasy garage clock.
    "No time!" Cody said. "Look, I carry the gun, you shove the pills down your pants. Easy."
    "I have to drive," said Javier.
    "You can drive with those down your pants, it's fine."
    "What if we get pulled over?"
     

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