1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    "Learn dialogue". How do I do this?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Link the Writer, May 24, 2015.

    Disclaimer: Chalk this up to yet another post I should've made when I first joined here. God, what's wrong with me? :confuzled:

    In the last two creative writing classes I've taken over the years, the most glaring critique I've gotten from the teacher was that I had to learn dialogue. Stupid guy that I was, I never asked her to clarify but upon reviewing my submissions, I do get the feeling that my characters sound the same; they never sound like their own person.

    I guess my question is two-fold: how does one properly learn dialogue, and how do you differ each dialogue per character so you know who is who? I always figured that if you added 'said [character name]' you were fine, but apparently there's more to it than I thought.
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd caution against excessive dialect or verbal ticks... I think dialogue is best when the distinctions are subtle.

    Are you sure your teacher meant making every character sound different, or is there maybe something else about dialogue you need to look at? Does your dialogue sound natural? If you read it out loud, can you imagine characters actually saying the words?
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    See, that was the thing I was too stupid to ask back then. :( However, I think part of the problem is that the dialogue doesn't feel natural. I've gone over my recent fantasy draft and read the lines aloud, keeping in mind the mood of the characters and it doesn't fit. To wit, one of them was having a panic attack and chalks it up to superstition...then goes on to explain how her priests would teach her kin these sort of things. It's part of the world-building, but for her I doubt she'd be keen to share that bit at that particular moment knowing her character.

    I've always wondered about reading your characters' lines aloud. How do they help in determining how things feel natural? I always thought you weren't supposed to mimic normal speech.
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there's a fine line between mimicking normal speech (which would make your dialogue damn-near incomprehensible) and writing dialogue that feels like normal speech.

    Are you putting too much exposition into the dialogue? Having your characters say too much? (this is a big problem for me, because I love laconic characters and ALSO love juicy dialogue. The two don't really go together!)

    I see most of my scenes as if they're movies, and play the dialogue back and forth between the characters. I try to pick up on the times when the actor on the screen might not say anything, but convey a lot of meaning with a look or a grunt or something.

    Do you have stuff posted anywhere to look at? This would probably be easier if we weren't both just guessing at what's going on!
     
  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I'll PM you what I've got and you can check it out.

    EDIT:
    My problem is mostly dialogue. :D I like to have my characters talk more than focus on describing where they are and what they're feeling. That's something I really need to work on. Focusing on where they are and how they feel while they're talking.
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2015
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Which is actually a different problem from a purely dialogue issue.
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Did she mean how you arranged it or the actual content of the dialogue?
     
  8. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Shadowfax
    He always has something good to say on the issue of Dialogue :D.

    Me personally? I never felt like I have to much trouble here. I think over thinking it can be troublesome. It can hurt the prose I think. I usually just think how a character would speak and write it. Then again I usually have a over thought there personality before hand.

    If I had to think of advice. I think I would ask things like;
    Is this character;
    Indirect or Direct?
    Passive or Aggressive?
    Formal or Casual?
    If the character rates the same on those scales you can probably break it up by giving them certain words they repeat often. Also notable to mention some characters will often switch. I mean kid may talk aggressively and causally to his friends but passively and formal to his parents.

    Hope it helps.
     
  9. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    It ought to flow naturally. Try to avoid wooden magniloquence. Read it out loud. If you're having trouble making it sound natural to mood and such, try to imagine how you would react in that situation and compare it to the characters. Are they quiet? Loud? There are a lot of ways to convey it both through adverbs (f what Stephen King says. Adverbs are good when you need them) and punctuation. Just keep refining until it sounds right in your mind.
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Thanks for the advice everyone. My troubles usually stem around the structure of the dialogue. It might be a good idea for me to provide you all with an example so you can see what I'm talking about. Here's an excerpt from the fantasy I'm writing.

    “Arthéa,” Ikaya collapsed in a chair, her paws trembling in her lap. Gregreo was in her office, standing near the doorway with his hands clasped behind his back. Ikaya behind her desk of books, a candle, and a quill inside its inkstand. The Aquani's eyes were filled with unmistakeable fear at the news. “My child? Possessed?”

    Gregreo nodded. “The being said it was a Helveton, a servant of the God of the underworld.”
    “This demon doesn't serve anyone.” Ikaya shook her head. “It's chaotic, it-"

    Ikaya shot up from her seat and hurried out. Gregreo balked at this sudden interruption as he watched her hurry towards a side chamber. She stopped, turned to him and beckoned with a paw. “Come on, I need you to see something.”

    ~*~

    “She was here.” Ikaya said with a low voice. Gregreo barely heard her, being a bit behind and desperately pawing at the damp walls, feeling his way through the dark. His right hand balanced a torch spell, but that did little to ease the ensnaring panic that welled up in his stomach. He forced himself to breath deeply, through his nose and out his mouth just like he learned in meditation.

    “Are you struggling with your breathing?” Ikaya asked as he finally caught up with her. Gregreo nodded quickly, not wishing to discuss it further. Ikaya narrowed her eyes at him, then pointed a clawed finger at a small spot on the ground near a grave.

    “A book?” Gregreo gasped heavily, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

    “What are you doing to my child?” Ikaya snipped, went over to pick up the book. “It's a book written in the Herman'cha, the alphabet for the blind.”

    “Does it say anything?” Gregreo asked, wishing to Marghim they'd get out of here.

    Irritably, Ikaya flipped open the book, put a claw in the middle of a page. “Yes, it says right here that Mishu Jerni is the one foretold by ancient prophecies to single-handedly rid Alkoria of the evils that plague it.” She slammed the book shut. “It's a fantasy book about a group of Chosen Ones from different kingdoms who unite to save the whole planet.”

    Gregreo clenched his jaw tightly, he could've done without the sarcasm. “I'm sorry, Ikaya, I'm just trying to help.”

    “I don't know any more than you do, Lord Valmorn,” Ikaya emphasized the ‘lord’ with sarcasm. Gregreo couldn't help but chuckle at that. “I've no idea why Mishu's been here, she's was never supposed to be here. Only those blessed with the proper charms can enter unmolested.”

    “She must've come here for a reason. I wouldn't think she'd disobey a tenant of the Temple, if anything else... She wouldn't want to upset you. She still loves you.”

    Ikaya said nothing. With a deep breath, she clutched the book tighter in her chest. Gregreo could almost see her brain mulling it over as she looked at the ceiling of the catacomb. The uneasy tension was still building in Gregreo, he eyed every dark shadow, wondering if they were about to be ambushed by some shambling undead monstrosity. His mind played back a cruel prank done to him as a child by someone he once called a friend. Locked in a catacomb with a shambling corpse chasing him. Had he not used his wits and gotten out of there, he would've perished.

    His free hand tightened into a fist. He had found the traitor some time later and dealt with him the only way he felt deserving. Pure blunt force. No magic, no swordsmanship. Just his bare hands. The child was a Necrotha, one who could manipulate the dead. If anyone had resurrected that corpse, it was him.

    Hopefully no one would manipulate him...

    A soft, furry tap on his cheek broke him from his thoughts. Ikaya was closer now with a look of concern. “Let me come with you to your manor. I need to speak with Mishu, personally.”

    Gregreo nodded and almost bolted into a sprint from the catacombs had Ikaya not gotten in front of him. He settled for a brisk, hurried walk as close as he could to her without getting tangled up in her tail.

    Once out of the catacombs, Gregreo laid flat against the wall taking in deep lungfuls of the cool refreshing air while Ikaya performed the spells to reseal the door. Mishu was in there, by Arthéa's mercy! She had no idea of the danger she had put herself in, what luck no one sealed her in unknowingly. He gazed at Ikaya. “If it takes specially trained priests to enter the catacombs, how did she get in?”

    “That's what we intend to find out,” Ikaya said, visibly disturbed. “I don't doubt she's a bright girl, but someone with her level of training should not be able to do that.”

    From what BayView told me, I have trouble with comma splices, an abuse of the non-'he said'/'she said', relying on it way too much and I tend to ramble on with expositional dialogue.

    I think I now understand how to avoid unnecessary comma splices and ways to convey dialogue and action without the "...he gasped"/"...she moaned" repetition but I'm still having trouble with the expository dialogue. Aren't they supposed to be important when conveying information to the readers? True it's information the characters should know, but the readers don't.
     
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  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be happy to write a bunch of detailed comments, but I feel that I'm not supposed to unless this is in the Review Room. Any chance you can put it there?
     
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  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Sure, I'd have to do my two reviews first before posting mine up, though. :D
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2015
  13. A.J. Pruitt
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    A.J. Pruitt Member

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    Dialog can be the maker or the killer of a great story. Weak dialogue can also mean acceptance or rejection from a publisher. Early on in my writing career, I attended a course in Vancouver that dealt with dialogue and nothing else. It was a three week seminar and workshop. The course was a turning point in my writing career.

    A few words of dialogue can be used to give characters a personality and create an entire scene. Dialogue with a strong connective narrative can create a very compelling scene in your reader's mind. Rather than type out a long lecture with this, I am going to attempt to give you an abbreviated example of how dialogue and the adjoining narrative can give your characters life and create a scene within a few words.

    “I am not sure I understand what you mean John,” Ruth said, wringing her hands tightly together, leaving John to wonder if he was the cause of her nervousness.

    He studied her momentarily in silence trying to read the tenseness on her face before replying.

    “I am trying to understand your problem Ruth,” John said cautiously. “It seems that you are feeling that your problem is worse than it actually is and it is eating at your soul.”

    With only a few well chosen words of dialog, coupled with a strong narrative, you can create a scene of tenseness within your characters without having to use a full paragraph to give your reader your intended atmosphere of tension. To make dialogue compelling, it needs strong connective narrative to add to your projected scene.


    A.J.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2015
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  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's also a lot of individual style that goes into writing dialogue. It will depend on the genre you're writing and your own style, the narrative style, and also, of course, on the characters involved.

    I say this because I would never write dialogue like @A.J. Pruitt's example. Not because I think it's wrong or bad, just because it's nowhere near my style. If I were to write that scene, it would probably be more like:

    "What are you really trying to say?" Ruth demanded. She was squeezing her hands together like she always did when she was nervous.

    John studied her a moment. Was he the source of her anxiety?

    "I don't know what's going on," he said carefully. "I can't see why you think things are so bad, and I don't know why you're letting it make you miserable. But I'm trying to understand."
    My style and characters are more casual, my POV is closer, etc.

    It's important to find your own comfort zone, I think. And, of course, once you're comfortable, it's important to push out of it now and then! But there isn't just one way to write dialogue, even for the same characters. Play around a bit and see what works for you.
     
  15. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    To give my character their own voice and personality, I just try to think what they'd be like. A lot of authors base characters -- or at least some aspects of them -- on people they know or have come across in life.

    Start by thinking of a person, then trying to think of another person that you would consider a polar opposite in personality. Then try to think how they talk -- what words they use, how they say them, and if they have any particular habit. A pretty simple and clique example would be people who say you know a lot. Imagine some sly weasel character that always tries to talk himself out of trouble. The bumbling gangster clique.

    Chino, feeling anxious, tries to convince Bobby that he's not to blame. 'I wouldn't do that, Bobby, you know. I ain't no rat. But Frank, you know, the guy's a fucking lunatic; you can't trust him.'

    And there you have it: dialogue that reflects a character's personality. Of course, it can always be better, but I hope it helps.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2015
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  16. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Ah, I see. OK, let me try with the characters @A.J. Pruitt used. Sorry about what follows, I was just letting my imagination run wild on this one.

    John paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. The silence was soothing, but temporary. Every second bought him a little more time. "What the hell do you mean by that?" Ruth said from the sofa. Her hands were balled into fists on her knees as she leaned forward. "Answer me!"

    John closed his eyes. Her words cut into him, ate away at what little restraint he had left about this tired argument. "I've no idea what your problem is, Ruth," he said sharply. "I'm sorry if it's something I'm doing wrong, but treating me like the bad guy before I even know shit is not gonna help you any time soon." He cringed the moment he said it. Damn it, that's not what I was going to say!

    "How dare you!" Ruth shot up to her feet, pulling her wand out from her coat. John stiffened with alarm as she aimed at him. "I thought we had a deal, that I'd get my equal cut. You will not take that away from me."


    Very insightful replies, everyone. Thanks so much. :) I'll play around with it to see what works.
     
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  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    This passage works for me, for sure. (Not sure about the "I" in the "Damn it..." sentence, but... judgement call!)
     
  18. Gloria Sythe
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    Gloria Sythe Member

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    I sort of like the dialogues that followed A.J. Pruitt's post; however, I find his a lot more concise and says a lot in very few words. Drawing out a scene for word fill creates boring writing in my estimation. I tend to stay interested in stories that move quickly while the author leads my mind in the direction that his story line is going.

    Link the Writer's dialogue tried to convey much the same scene as Mr. Pruitt's but used three times the amount of words to create the similar scene of tension.

    The Mad Regent has the idea of how to give his character his or her own voice and personality through a simple dialogue with a short narrative to add to the dialogue.

    As has been mentioned several times in the various responses, a writer has their own voice when writing. I would only suggest that wordiness can be as distracting as as poor grammar. It takes practice and I gather that Mr. Pruitt has been doing this for some time.

    This a great subject and I do enjoy the various ideas of how dialogue can create a scene in the reader's mind.

    Gloria
     
  19. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    AJ's version - 78 words
    My version - 70 words
    Link's version - 175 words, but introduced a lot more elements (magic! a bit of context!)

    I'm not sure how concise AJ's is by comparison...
     
  20. Gloria Sythe
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    Gloria Sythe Member

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    Bay View, I didn't mean to shoot you down or to say your version of dialogue was not done well.
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I wasn't insulted, just confused. I'm wondering if you're seeing something other than "conciseness" that you prefer?
     
  22. Gloria Sythe
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    Gloria Sythe Member

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    To BayView:


    Both your and Mr. Pruitt's style of creating a scene is great from my stand point. Both writing techniques combined dialogue and narrative to create a strong scene and did it in very few words. Link the Writer's version was an expanded version where he used twice the number of words to convey the same scene to the reader.

    Being that you have work published, you are acutely aware of how important it is to be concise when creating a scene. To my mindset, narrative can be as important as dialogue when the writer wants to create a certain scene in his writing. When the writer is strongly proficient in creating both dialogue and a a very concise connective dialogue, (stealing Mr. Pruitt's terminology) a lot can be said with very few words.

    As I stated above, you and Mr. Pruitt said a lot with very few words. You, combined anger and defensiveness posturing along with nervous tension where as Mr. Pruitt stuck with nervous tension only. Both styles worked very well.

    What I saw in my mind with Mr. Pruitt's version was a woman who was beating herself over something that John did not fully understand, or possibly did understand more than the female character could see in herself. I could also see a woman who was taking herself down by her own emotions. With Mr. Pruitt's version I pictured a confused woman and a patient and caring man. As my original post observed, he put a lot of scene into very few words.

    With your version, I saw very different female and male characters. In your version, I saw a a very tense and angry woman who was defensive of her own feelings. (the word "demand" is a very strong word in any sentence) You conveyed the same caring man; however, I would tend to use the word "calmly" instead of "carefully". With "carefully", you were making John to be defensive as well.

    As you stated though, it's a personal style of writing and the type of character you have before this scene and what transpires after.

    Just my opinion of a very short excerpt by two writers. And again, my apologies if I gave you the feeling that I was insulting or ignoring your advice.

    This is a great subject and one that writers should be acutely aware of.

    Gloria.
     
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  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nope, didn't feel ignored or insulted! Seriously.

    I do think that conciseness can be over-rated, though. I mean, if you're going for concise, most stories could be told in a few sentences, really. But that's not why people chose to read novels!

    I think we need to spend our words wisely, for sure, but we can't be afraid to spend them. We can't waste them on unimportant details, but if something's important, we should spend some time on whatever it is.

    This is another individual thing, but in general I think there are writers who "write long", throwing lots of extra stuff into their first drafts, and writers who "write short", putting not enough detail into their first drafts. I write short, so for me, conciseness isn't something I strive for. It's my natural style, that generally needs to be tempered with the conscientious addition of rich, relevant details.
     
  24. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    To be fair, I tend to ramble my thoughts out and it shows in my writing. I have this belief that if I don't present enough information, the context will be lost and in this instance, I had no context of why they were fighting. Ruth was nervous and John was agitated. I wanted to include a reason so I added the whole 'my cut of the deal'. The magic was just a random spur of the moment that I thought would make it more interesting. :p I was almost tempted to write a brief spell duel between the two 'til I realized I was way off tangent.

    Basically, some of my favorite books are because the authors provided enough detail to show me exactly what the characters were feeling and the context behind it. True, I probably could've showed how tired John was of the argument without waxing about how it ate at him; how the silence was soothing, etc.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2015
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  25. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Well, that's the whole point of drafts. In the second draft, you begin to cut away at the fat, making it more lean'n'clean!
     
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