1. missxmadden
    Offline

    missxmadden New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2010
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0

    Need help with dialog

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by missxmadden, Sep 17, 2010.

    I am writing a story and there are parts with dialog, and just dialog. In a class, I've been told to have the characters do little things to keep it running smooth, but I really have no idea what I should make them do. What are some general ideas on how to make dialog smoother.
     
  2. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,722
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    It depends on who the characters are and what environment they're in. Watch people talk sometime. They don't just stand there at attention talking to each other. What do they do? They might shuffle through papers on their desks, or toy with their pens. They check their fingernails. They stir cream into their coffee. They swat at flies. They lean back in their chairs. They run their fingers through their hair. One nervous habit I have is that, if I'm drinking a beer while I'm having a conversation, I tend to peel the label off the bottle.

    What do you do while you're talking with someone?
     
  3. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,681
    Likes Received:
    2,533
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    In one novel, I had one chapter in which my main character, a priest, was having a long conversation with his father in which their past differences came to light as well as the possibility that the father might be starting to weaken in his disapproval of the son. So, I had them in a New York steakhouse having lunch, and interspersed comments on the lunch itself with the conversation. I was therefore able to use the lunch itself as an opportunity to point out the father's health problems, his general dour mood, and other aspects of his personality - showing rather than telling.

    Hope this helps.
     
  4. Naiyn
    Offline

    Naiyn Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2010
    Messages:
    227
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Nebraska
    To build on what minstrel wrote, you could also zoom in on unspoken thoughts. What does the MC think about the conversation? About the person they're talking to? Does the conversation nudge their perspective or outlook in an unexpected direction?
     
  5. Taylee91
    Offline

    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2010
    Messages:
    1,262
    Likes Received:
    73
    Location:
    The Bay State
    Hi missxmadden. Here is an example of dialogue I wrote in another thread a few weeks ago.

    “Hey, Rachel? Can we talk?”

    “Yeah, sure.”

    “Uh, I mean alone. Not right here.”

    “Carter, we’re standing in the middle of the school yard. No one will hear us. What’s wrong with right here?”

    “Nothing, I just….”

    “What’s wrong? You aren’t moving away again are you?”

    “No.”

    “Then what’s up? By now, you shouldn’t have any problems telling me things.”

    “Oh, forget it. Just - never mind.”

    It was just a quick try. And here's what Cogito replied back to me. It was a really good explanation for writing dialogue. (Thanks Cogito!)

    This is from the "Teenagers Talk" thread. If you want to view more of the thread, go to Writing issues - Plot Creation - Research.

    Hope this helps you :) If you need more help or suggestions, PM me. I'd be glad to help.

    T
     
  6. missxmadden
    Offline

    missxmadden New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2010
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0
    In my class, when two people are talking, the teacher said, to put thoughts, like one of you said, and have something small happen, like have the cat walk by. But one of my dialog deal with two people talking on the phone. Does it apply the same? I still want the reader to know that the two characters are still on the phone, but if I have something up small, like have the cat walk by, I think the reader will think that they are at home or something
     
  7. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    you don't need any of that you can just do a simple back and forth dialogue that conveys meaning, with it's content. However if it is for said teacher sneak a couple in for a better grade:)

    Write the dialogue then give it what it needs, I have some dialogue that needs a bit of description and some that needs none. Try looking up anything Islander on here has done he has short stories under fantasy he writes some of the best dialogue I have ever read.
     
  8. Chaka Lives
    Offline

    Chaka Lives New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2010
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Roseville, CA
    All good points by the contributors, I'm sure you've got enough stuff to work with, but here's another idea that you might feel useful. Keeping the flow can be difficult, so what I do sometimes is keep a log of dialogue tags, and character actions that I observe through both reading, and watching people. When I get stumped with creating a better picture with my writing, I will often refer back to my log for ideas. Hope that helps!
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    What is the purpose of your dialogue?

    Dialogue isn't just chit chat to fill space between narrative. Good dialogue reveals character. In good dialogue, the actual words spoken are often secondary to what is really on the characters' minds.

    When the actual conversation is different from the surface meaning of the words, that is called the subtext.

    Ever listen to parents not fighting in front of the kids? They'll talk about apparently neutral subjects, but nearly every sentence has a double meaning aimed at the other person. The subtext crackles almost audibly. Likewise when a girlfriend is dropping hints to her boyfriend that he should make a commitment to her (move in, propose marriage, or just say those three words aloud), and the boyfriend pretends he is oblivious to those hints because he is scared spitless she will hate him if she gets a closer look at him - that is a conversation bursting with subtext.

    Before you start a dialogue, decide what it really is about. Then decide how straight on you're characters will express it.

    That isn't all there is to dialogue, but subtext and hidden meanings are a powerful approach.
     
  10. Islander
    Offline

    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Messages:
    1,542
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    Sweden
    Try to visualise your characters as they speak. Is one of them worried, and biting his lip? Mention it, it adds subtext and character. Is the other one trying to hide something, and flickering with his eyes before answering? Mention it. Are there pauses in the speech? Use ellipses (...) or insert a beat between sentences.
     
  11. w176
    Offline

    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2010
    Messages:
    1,067
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Luleå, Sweden
    Well. Another thing is people is good at finding context and mening. You can basically try whatever and will find that it will affect the context.

    It knocks on the door.
    "Come in. You know why I called you?" A says.
    "No? " B says.
    A hands B a paper.
    "I thought you wouldn`t take that into account?" B says.
    "You`re fired." A says.
    "Fine. I hated that stupid job anyway." B says.

    Silly dialoque from the impro game "You're fired". But it works for a demonstration.

    It knocks on the door.
    "Come in. You know why I called you?" A says, lifting his chin.
    "No? " B says placing her hand on the desk.
    A hands B a paper.
    "I thought you wouldn`t take that into account?" B says seeking A gaze.
    "You`re fired." A says scratching his kin
    "Fine. I hated that stupid job anyway." B says and licks her lips.


    It knocks on the door.
    "Come in. You know why I called you?" A says and smiles.
    "No? " B says, abstsentmindedly stoking the place where her wedding band once where.
    A hands B a paper.
    "I thought you wouldn`t take that into account?" B says not meeting A gaze.
    "You`re fired." A says spinning a pen between his fingers.
    "Fine. I hated that stupid job anyway." B says, crunching the paper to a ball.

    I just added things quite randomly. And our brain strive to turn it into a scene that makes sense.

    Just go ahead. Whatever action you add to the dialogue will add some nuance to what is said. Trial and error and feeling your way can be an excellent way to learn.
     
    1 person likes this.
  12. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    for all the general and specific ideas you could want, all you have to do is pick up any 6 novels you have lying around the house and see for yourself how it's done!
     
  13. Horizon Noise
    Offline

    Horizon Noise Member

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2010
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    0
    I was going to suggest that too. Basically it's the the best way of finding out how it's done. That, and really listening to people speak and watching how they behave.

    As mentioned previously, use dialog for a purpose. I tend to go to extremes here and say that every single line of dialogue, without exception, should be there for a purpose. Ask yourself, "What's the purpose of that line of dialogue?" and if you can't answer, cut it out. That goes for behaviour descriptions too.
     
  14. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    I agree with Horizon Noise if it does not serve a purpose, cut it out.

    But being that your piece of writing is for your teacher, give her what she as asked for if you want to get a good mark.

    'Mum, may I go swimming?'
    'Just a moment.' Dora answered while reaching across for the TV remote control to turn the sound down.
    'That's better, now what were you saying?'

    Is that the type of thing your teacher is looking for?

    I have just read your second thread. You could have one of your characters doodling on the phone book, looking out of the window at (whatever) children playing, waving to Mrs so and so whom is laden down with shopping.
     
  15. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    Even the most off-topic and seemingly pointless string of dialogue can have a function if it bridges the gap from one important subject to another. Dialogue subjects should flow naturally from the mind of the characters and not be bullet points at a conference.
     
  16. Horizon Noise
    Offline

    Horizon Noise Member

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2010
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    0
    That's true, so as I said, if it has a function, leave it in.
     
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Wellllll...

    You should consider whether dialogue is the best way to fulfill that purpose.

    You could tell an entire story in dialogue, but it is almost never a good decision. You can do all your exposition in dialogue - also usually a bad idea.

    Dialogue can be more cumbersome than narrative. You have to keep it straight to the reader who is talking, and you have to phrase it in ways true to each character.

    On the other hand, good dialogue gives the reader a better picture of the speaker, and it can convey emotional state and conflict on several layers at once.

    Play to its strengths, and around its weaknesses.
     
  18. Horizon Noise
    Offline

    Horizon Noise Member

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2010
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    0
    Sorry, I had taken HorusEye's statement to mean one important subject to another within the dialogue. Reading it again it doesn't say that so you're right.
     
  19. thewordsmith
    Offline

    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2009
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    124
    Location:
    State of Confusion
    I know your writing teacher will want to come through the computer and flog me but, you really shouldn't worry too much about what the characters are doing as such. Let the situation dictate the circumstances.

    Consider a group of old women sitting around shelling peas or making a quilt. The shelling and quilting go on, relatively unnoticed, as the conversation takes center stage. Unless someone pricks a finger or drops a handful of peas on the floor, no one will comment on the action even though everyone knows they are still doing whatever.

    Another scenario: You have a mother and daughter out shopping and Mom has chosen this mother-daughter 'bonding' moment to talk to her tween about the boy she is dating. They are shopping! Their conversations are going to be interspersed with pulling a shirt or dress or shoes off a rack. Mom holds a blouse up to daughter and mentions the boyfriend. Daughter rolls her eyes and changes the subject by pulling a different blouse from the rack saying, "He works after school so he can't come over until after ten. Oh, look! Wouldn't this go great with my new jeans?"

    In writing, words and actions have a certain symbiotic relationship. Each one feeds off of the other. So that means that, sometimes, what they are doing will effect what they say and, sometimes, what they say will dictate what they do.

    The problem with using this kind of tactic (or any other means of imbuing a situation with outside activity) is that a little goes a long way so you don't want to use too much of this type of dialog.

    Or: A group of girls are huddled around a table at their favorite hangout and, while they discuss their latest triumphs and failures, the class hottie strolls through the door, glances their way and offers just a hint of a smile. The girls are still munching burgers and sipping soda but, following hottie's entrance, they suddenly begin ogling him as they play with straws and nibble their sandwiches. In a case such as this, the activity would be more vital to the scene because it is part of the flirtation process as they giggle about Mr. Hottie.

    I'm sure your writing teacher is trying to get the class to understand how a person's day-to-day activities don't stop just because they have something to say to someone but, for the sake of creative writing, it doesn't hurt to soft pedal it a bit. But, with a little imagination, you can learn to see how the scene and dialog can and will present the opportunities to introduce what the characters are doing at any given moment.
     
  20. wavodavo
    Offline

    wavodavo Member

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2010
    Messages:
    54
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Washington State, USA
    Though, missxmadden, I'd avoid inserting too much action into the actual dialogue. Most readers would find it contrived.

    "What is that rushing noise?"

    "Huh?"

    "Like water rushing or something."

    "Oh! I busted a pipe under the kitchen sink. It's really coming in here. Up to my chest already. I'm gonna have to tread water pretty soon to keep the phone dry."

    "O-okay..."

    "At least the fire's out."

    Also, I'd avoid long stretches of pure dialogue, especially if the two characters have similar speaking styles. Readers can lose track of who is saying what to whom. It's hard to know how long is too long a stretch, but I'd endeavor to keep the exchanges down to a six or so...though that's no hard and fast rule.
     
  21. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Beats, brief actions by the current speaker interspersed with dialogue, can not only keep the conversation grounded to the scene, but also break up the wall od talk. Moreover, beats can often take the place of dialogue tags, so you can get by with fewer John saids and Mary saids.

    This may help: He said, she said - Mechanics of Dialogue.
     

Share This Page