1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Opinions on small talk dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Aug 19, 2015.

    The text books would tell you there's no place for meaningless dialogue between characters, but what do those who matter (the readers) really think?

    Is it okay in short doses ( maybe even welcome ) if it's there to get across character and personality, even if the dialogue does nothing to drive the plot?

    Or are you of the ilk who believes there's neither room nor need for it?

    I ask because dialogue is where I feel most comfortable when writing, and also find it hard to imagine that the setting and theme of my story would unfold without some degree of 'downtime' during which my characters indulge in small talk.

    I know of at least one writer who used to do this - the late Iain Banks - but is it a risk worth taking?
     
  2. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Well you have to have bridges. It doesn't matter if they are short or long, both will get you over the water. Just try not to overuse them. No matter what it is, overuse is going to hurt your writing.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes. IMO.
     
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  4. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    I say small doses, like, if you are trying to accentuate an awkward situation. Otherwise it could read as filler, even the dialogue is funny.
    Small talk can be a good way of organically highlighting character traits or even snippets of backstory. But it should be pushing the story somewhere, and not just existing for its own sake.
     
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  5. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Strange that you should say that, as I find that any small-talk my characters indulge in, is nearly always of the comical type. I think I use humour as some kind of illogical justification for including it. Oh, look. It's two friends trading insults and sarcastic remarks, so it's okay... kind of thing.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If it helps with characterization, then I would argue that it's an important piece of dialogue.
     
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  7. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    In cases like that, yeah, it's good. Taking a beat to just let the characters reveal a bit of who they are is great. But I'm sure we've all read books where you wonder, "why is this here?"
     
  8. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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  9. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Maybe I'm just reiterating @Lewdog 's bridges, but I think it helps with plot pacing. It can be overwhelming when a story ceaselessly rams important points down your neck. I personally like some unimportant intervening scenes/dialogue, especially if they're funny, or add to the setting or characters. But as with most things, it's a matter of balance.
     
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  10. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Anybody ever read Murakami? Somehow he gets away with drawn out everything. Whether small talk, setting descriptions, stage direction... love/hate the guy now that I know more about "rules of writing." But that begs the question... if you don't know it's "bad writing" and find it enjoyable... doesn't that make it... ... ... good writing?

    *flees*
     
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  11. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    I like small talk. I think because as a reader I like to read between the lines so-to-speak (er. so-to-read). Also, I think small talk is also a great way to establish what is lunatic fringe --- meaning, for example: small talk in an assassination novel between two killers would be far different that small talk between two old ladies in a novel about quilting. (Although, those two old ladies might shock ya...)
     
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  12. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a bloody good question!
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It is definitely fine in a novel. Plenty of examples of it. In short stories I think there is more of a need for everything to advance the plot and for dialogue to pull double or triple duty.
     
  14. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Or ... is it a bad question that you find enjoyable that makes it ... a good question?

    *fleas*
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If the "rules" of writing changed your views then this is a great illustration of the problem with considering such things "rules," as is so common on writing forums.
     
  16. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you, Sigmund!
     
  17. MikeyC
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    MikeyC Member

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    Personally, I would say small talk is an absolute necessity. Not only does it give credence to the realism of characters, but it is also a really nice way of introducing character traits.

    At least that is the way I see it.

    As long as it flows...it's all good in my view.


    Regards

    Mike
     
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  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    When I hear 'small talk' I think of:

    Anne: "Hi."
    John: "Hello."
    Anne: "Nice weather today."
    John: "I know, isn't it great that summer's finally here?"
    Anne: "Yes, let's hope it lasts."
    John: "Yeah, winter seemed very long this year."
    Anne: "It did. I had my heating on from October to March."
    John: "I didn't turn mine off until April."

    Which I don't even want to hear in real life, let alone in a book that I read to be entertained. The only way that kind of stuff could be entertaining was if Anne and John had just come out of the stationary cupboard where they'd been having passionate sex, and now they're surrounded by co-workers.

    But I sense that everyone else is thinking of a different definition of small talk?
     
  19. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    As a reader I want the dialogue to read like people really talk, like I am eavesdropping--but the conversation must merit my interest so I would say that whatever "small talk" there might be should serve some function in the story--be that a lead-in to a deeper conversation, a peek into character, or setting the scene.
     
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  20. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just to clarify, I'm hoping the small-talk helps establishes the relationship (for the reader) between the two leads. This mainly consists of them insulting one another, so I suppose I should also remember the reader is not in my head. I don't want them reading dialogue and thinking, 'Hold on, I thought these two were supposed to be friends? Why are they being so horrible to each other?'
     
  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Ah see, I wouldn't call that small talk, just conversation. Small talk to me, by its definition, is just saying words for the sake of something to say and not caring about the reply... safe topics of conversation for people you don't want to talk about anything interesting with. I think I have a skewed idea of what small talk is.

    The kind of "banter" (man, I hate that word) you're talking about between characters is a lot of fun. I wouldn't consider it filler or a waste of page space.
     
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  22. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Me too! I had to avoid using it in my last post. How odd that two people should find the same, harmless word so disagreeable!
     
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  23. Louis D. Thorpe
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    Louis D. Thorpe Member

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    Small talk is like bad elevator music.

    If you would rather watch the blinking light than listen, it's time for a new track.
     
  24. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Using something like small talk to lead the reader to have a false sense of security can be effective. For example, you have two characters chatting in a car, suddenly the car is side swiped. That's more effective than starting with the accident. Or even starting with a more meaningful conversation that would put the reader on edge.
     
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  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'd prefer small talk Quentin Tarantino style - it looks meaningless but it's got style.
     
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