1. Karasu
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    Karasu New Member

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    Trouble Writing Dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Karasu, May 25, 2011.

    So... Dialogue. It's hard.

    I've done a few tricks, taking a little book with me to write small pieces of dialogue I've heard so I could get the gist of how it works... however, I still end up writing corny, or overly dramatic dialogue.

    See, I'm trying to write comics. So, we're talking about more like a script. The way I see it, comics are mostly dialogue, aside from the images. So I feel like my entire story ideas are riding on how the dialogue sounds. And right now, it just sounds BAD.

    I feel like someone's probably asked this before, but do you guys have any tips for writing dialogue?
     
  2. Castle Pokemetroid
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    Castle Pokemetroid Member

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    Depends on how you want the character to sound. If it's causal, put down anything that comes to mind. If it's formal, research the words and use a thesaurus.

    Reading a lot and analyzing what others use has helped me with word writing stuff.
     
  3. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Give us some examples of your 'bad' dialog as well as a brief description of who is saying it and perhaps we can critique it for you.

    If you don't want to do that, try these tips:

    1. Make it genuine. Have characters say what you think they would realistically say based on their personality. Never create dialogue that's sole purpose is to give back story or infodump.

    2. Make it realistic. Think about the situation and mood that your characters are in. Their dialog is going to change because of it.

    3. Keep it simple. Most people when they communicate are short and to the point - especially in modern society. Unless you have for example an egotistical self-absorbed hero who wants to go on and on about his victories then yeah, there are characters like that but they are not very common.
     
  4. Karasu
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    Karasu New Member

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    Thanks for the suggestions, guys! I don't have anything solid to show, because I keep starting phrases and erasing them. It's because I just keep getting frustrated with it, that's all.

    I will definitely keep trying to play around with it. If I get anything solid, I'll definitely post it.
     
  5. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Read some stuff by Richard Bausch, if you're able and do the reading-to-study thing. He's maybe the best living writer of dialog (imo).

    Cut to the chase, no 10 lines of 'good, how are you' or long, rambling explanations from characters. Dialog is supposed to feel realistic, not be realistic.

    Use actions to create pauses and control pace (don't simply state 'he paused' but create that pause). Record yourself reading the dialog out loud, but not the narrative/prose/non-dialog, to get a feel if your pacing is good.

    Much of dialog effectiveness is the actions and contexts that are informing the dialog. One of the biggest reasons for bad dialog is actually bad or non-existent everything else around the dialog, and the writer tries to do it all via dialog, so the dialog gets weighted down and drowns, or just feels empty because it has no context.

    How to actually write dialog well, like the actual dialog, I would recommend just studying fiction and movies (not actual people, though it can help make your dialog better, I don't think it teaches how to write good fiction-dialog). Also, the biggest thing for me is knowing my characters so well that there is no question what they'd say in any given situation, they just say it. To get to this point, dialog may end up the last thing that clicks into place, so don't worry if in early drafts the dialog isn't saying exactly what you want. Accept that it might just be a placeholder for some point later in revision and don't obsess over something you can't know yet, and with dialog you often can't know until a lot of other things fall in place in a scene.
     
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  6. astrostu
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    astrostu Member

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    I don't mean to hijack this thread since this question fits entirely within the question in the subject line: How do you write unique-sounding dialogue for different characters? I showed an early draft of something I was writing to a friend and her response was that the two primary characters sounded exactly as I.
     
  7. BonanzaFan2011
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    BonanzaFan2011 Member

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    Hi Karasu :I'm the complete opposite than you. I could never write comedy dialogue. I've only just started writing and I'm finding that I find it easier to write drama.
     
  8. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    Try grammar differences, like pronoun elision (dropping pronouns before, after, or in the general vicinity of verbs, but usually before), shorter sentences, phrase structure... Thing is, this is quite difficult until you get the hang of it; it's like having to check a list every three seconds to see if your character talks as he did twenty pages ago, and hasn't sprouted gilded tongues all of a sudden.
     
  9. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    You say ...more like a script, therefore as an exercise I would study a few scripts and practice writing that way - to get the knack of it. Good luck.
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do not use dialogue just for talking about plot. The worst dialogue always always comes when people are stating the obvious or using it for infodumping backstory or whatever. Write your characters chilling out, and work the plot in that way. Have them make light of a dramatic news story before they realise how it affects them, or something like that. Their dialogue should be really aware there's another person in the room with them and that they aren't just speaking for the purpose of the reader, so don't forget clarifying comments, repetition, mumbled asides, and so on. In-jokes between the characters, or different ways of speaking to each other - best friends would mess around and swear at each other a lot more than people in a formal sort of relationship like a boss and worker or something. You really need to just stop deleting your speech and keep writing it until you've got into a comfortable groove with them. Practice is the key.
     
  11. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Good advice, Melzaar.

    What I find difficult in dialogues is the level of detail needed.

    Usually some "showing" emotion adds spice to the dialogues and drags the reader into the story. being an engineer by training with a beta brain, I started writing the contents first, and in later passes I added the emotional twists. But that didn't really work for me; it seemed I lost touch with my characters.

    However, talking about the plot between conspiring characters can be realistic. You can also use "half truths" that remain mysterious to the reader but he gets a sense something more is behind.

    On my soapbox (uhhh blog) I have posted the first chapter of my consiracy thriller The Money Pit. There are dialogues in it, but I am still not 100% satisfied - I think they can be cut more without losing the sense of it. But maybe I am overly concerned, so I leave it for the time being.

    To the OP: I write short stories where every word counts, and it contains dialogues. I bring this up because I learned that it is an effective way of exercising - at least it works for me.
     
  12. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    I agree, with the exception on #1,
    If it one character getting to know another, short back story information would be realistic. Not the complete life story.

    ("Where you from? Where did you grow up? etc.)


    I think the best way to learn how to write dialog is to listen to people talk. Not just when talking to you, but others talking to others, too.
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I maintain the best way is talking a lot yourself. :p The worst dialogue writers I know are shy and don't speak up. People who confidently lead conversations are good at dialogue. People always tell me I've been good at it - when I first showed finished novels to my parents as a little kid that was the first thing they said. And I've always been a chatterbox. :D The rule holds true for many writers I know - the more reclusive they are the more stilted and formal the dialogue.

    The only problem I've ever found is that both in real life and in my stories some kinder friends do say, "... aaaand BREATHE" when I've rambled too long. :p
     
  14. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with both of these, although I only do the former. I'm shy and quiet but apparently I write good dialogue so I must be an exception. :p

    OP: Since you said about writing comics and it being more script like, I suggest you listen to some radio plays, as well as reading plenty of comics.

    The thing you've got to remember is that the dialogue has got to either reveal something of the character, or move the plot on, it's got to add to the story. There's no point having dialogue for the sake of it.

    Also, don't delete the dialogue you've written. Read aloud the dialogue, and usually you'll be able to notice what's wrong with it.
     
  15. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Although I haven't read anything by Richard Bausch, the rest of this post is pretty much the best advice I could give. People too often try to make dialogue "real" and it sadly becomes (for lack of a better descriptive phrase) an epic fail - imo. It shouldn't be "real" because in fiction the "real" kind seems very confusing and forced. It should flow well and make sense and hit all the points you need it to, so .... do what he ^ said :)
     
  16. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    My dialogue usually comes from real-life situations or weird conversations I've had with friends. Certain expressions or speaking styles from my life find their ways into my stories. I think taking from the real world is a good idea. :)
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    For one thing, avoid what one site calls "Hollywood narration" where the author uses dialogue to shovel information to the reader. And I think that having the character specifically express lofty or dramatic sentiments is also a form of Hollywood narration.

    *Begin Bad Bad Example*
    James cut into his chicken. "As you know, Hortense, when I graduated from law school I chose to reject the corporate world and use my skills to help the fine organic growers in our town, Pearville, the farming jewel of Oregon. Ever since I worked in my uncle's law office as a high school sophomore, I've been dedicated to the cause of helping the little guy win justice from the majesty of the law, but sometimes I grow discouraged. Our firm has insufficient resources to fulfill all of its commitments, and I fear that we may, with the best of intentions, betray our worthy clients and expose our firm to consequences that could prevent us from fulfilling our mission."

    Hortense asked, "But what's wrong, dear? Your job as assistant district supervisor of the regional Legal Co-Op must be very satisfying. I'm very proud of you as my husband of five years and my high school sweetheart from our home town of Appleville, where I was a cheerleader and head of the Home Ec club and you were captain of the debate team and volunteered with the 4H. You are the most important thing in my life, and it upsets me when you aren't happy. As the daughter of a dysfunctional family, I feel responsible when anything goes wrong in our lives."

    James shrugged. "I love my job and my role in helping the small farmer in our increasingly corporate-dominated economy, but my low salary makes it difficult for me to pay for the things needed by our three-year-old daughter, Jane, an adorable curly-haired tot with blue eyes, who is demonstrating speech delays and requires a therapist as a result. She is the part of our lives that makes it all seem worthwhile, but it tears my heart to think that I may not be able to give her the best."

    *End Bad Bad Example*

    More natural (I hope) dialogue that would get the plot-important parts of the information across could be:

    Hortense eyed James warily across the table. "Looks like it was a bad day."

    James put his fork down. "Six new cases. Four of them defending against seed patent lawsuits. You know how many are fully funded? Hmmmmm? Guess. Just guess. Go on, guess."

    Hortense asked, "Half?"

    James shook his head. "Zero. Also, not any. In addition, none. Every one of them is pro bono. And William accepted them all anyway. Yes, fine, fine, we're the good guys, but the good guys are useless if they _can't get the work done_. His sweet little downtrodden farmers could sue us if we drop the ball, and it'd serve us right. At this rate, he's going to make us part of the problem."

    OK, get it over with. Hortense said, "We got the latest bill from Therapists R Us."

    Pushing his plate away, James asked, "Great. Wonderful. Fabulous. Are they accomplishing anything?"

    Hortense smiled. "Jane spoke a full sentence. 'Jane want cat. Now.'"

    James grinned. "Wordy _and_ bossy. Lawyer genes." He pulled the plate back and picked up his fork.


    (Looking at this, I realize that James's "say it three times" habit could get really really annoying over time, natural or not. Not that that's particularly relevant to the discussion, but I wanted to say it before anybody else does. :))

    ChickenFreak
     
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  18. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    ^ That's excellent advice. Avoid an info dump, not only in the text but also in the dialogue. Let specific bits of information weave themselves into the story rather than having pages of info at the beginning of a story.
     
  19. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Says absolutely everything about the character the reader needs to know at once in a really nice natural way. Props. :p
     

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