1. montecarlo

    montecarlo Contributor Contributor

    Sep 29, 2020
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    America's Heartland

    Dialog Excellence

    Discussion in 'Dialogue Development' started by montecarlo, Jan 25, 2023.

    I needed to do a little research to post this to be sure I'm not violating copyright, but I'm sure this falls under fair use.

    From Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld.

    “Give me your hand. I’ll tell you your fortune.”

    I sipped my coffee. “I was just hoping for a refill.”

    “Come on, Jake. What’re you afraid of? Bad news?”

    “Right now bad news would only improve my life.”

    Dedie wiped her hands on her apron and leaned over the counter. Her long curly red hair brushed the countertop. She snapped her fingers for me to give her my hand. “C’mon, you big baby, give it up.”

    “How come you don’t wear a hair net?” I asked. “Isn’t that against state law? Not to mention unsanitary.”

    She nodded toward Jimmy, the coffee shop owner, who sat at an empty booth reading USA Today. He was a handsome man just starting to go fleshy. Ten years ago, he’d played the sexy neighbor on a midseason replacement sitcom that didn’t get picked up for the fall. But he’d invested wisely and ended up owning a few coffee shops like this one.

    “Hear that music?” she said. Bob Dylan was singing “Idiot Wind.” He’d been mumble-singing since I’d come in about forty minutes ago.

    “Doesn’t sound like Jimmy’s kind of music,” I said.

    “Hates Dylan. Neil Young is up next; hates him too. Tom Waits after that. Jimmy hates them all, says they all sound drunk. But he lets me play them. See those flowers.” She gestured at the small white vases with a single fresh rose on each table. “My idea.”

    “Let me guess,” I said. “He lets you have your way around here in exchange for telling his fortune.”

    “That’s right. I predict which nights he’s going to have sex with me.”

    I stuck out my hand. “What the hell then.”​

    I like the judicious use of sentence fragments and run-on sentences in the dialog, gives it a natural flow to it. You can really imagine the characters saying the lines exactly as written. The punctuation not only helps clarify the meaning and make the dialog easy to read, but it also helps provide rhythm and cadence to the dialog.

    But what I like most is the deflection. More often than not, Dedie and Jake don't directly respond to each other. They deflect. Dedie wants his hand; Jake asks for a refill. Dedie insists; Jake jokes about hair nets; she responds with Bob Dylan.

    Jake doesn't say. "Alright, you win. Tell me my fortune." He says something more on-brand: "What the hell then."

    I think this is brilliant dialog.
  2. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

    Dec 24, 2019
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    Way, way out there
    I think it's largely because of skillful use of subtext. Things aren't telegraphed or just stated flatly (as you already said). Things are said that we can interpret meaning from, and then the meaning becomes clear, and usually we interpreted right. At least I did, and I assume just about everybody can. That lets us particpate a bit as readers, like playing a little semi-interactive game. Sometimes I hate subtext because I can't understand what it's supposed to mean, but when I get it it's fantastic. And here I got it all the way through.

    It did take a while to get some info out that I wanted right away. I wondered who he was talking to—a waitress, waiter, or someone behind a counter. Clearly it was one of the above. But it only took a few lines before that was revealed, and that felt good, because I was right. I mean, I didn't guess she was behind a counter, but that it had to be either a waiter, waitress, or counter-person. Probably a female. And I was right, and he revealed it after a brief period of my being annoyed at not knowing who he was talking to or what the setting was (though clearly some kind of eating or drinking establishment).

    I was also able to guess the sexual setup, and I was thrown off for a moment by she "Reads his fortune", but then she said she predicts when they're going to have sex, so bingo! I was right after all. I little fake-out and then yep, the reader's instinct was right. The author knows how to play with a reader's expectations and guesses.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2023
    montecarlo likes this.

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