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  1. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Info through dialogue

    Discussion in 'Dialogue Development' started by OurJud, Sep 18, 2017.

    No, this is not another thread on the pitfalls of info-dumps.

    If writing in first or (single POV) close third, I'm not entirely sure how the reader can obtain information from secondary characters, other than through a dialogue with the MC. But is this method as lazy and amateurish as I'm imagining?

    Of course we don't have to show the dialogue and can, instead, opt to have the conversation off-screen and then relay it through the narrative, after the MC has been told all this, i.e, During an earlier conversation, John had told Peter how he became involved with Sue ...

    Using this method we can condense John's past and make sure we only divulge the relative stuff, but even this feels amateurish to me.

    I'm asking this because I've reached a point in my WiP where the main and secondary character have the perfect opportunity to converse (they're on a long car journey). My MC wants filling in on a few details he hasn't yet had chance to discover, but the prospect of a conversation to do this just feels cheap and lazy.

    I've read a lot of books, and it just doesn't seem like the done thing. I'm trying to think of passages or chapters where this happens, and I can't. A good writer always manages to get this stuff across by other means, but what are they?
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This doesn't have to be explicitly explained with the "during an earlier conversation." You can just say "John became involved with Sue after blah blah blah." How Peter came to know this is immaterial. It's not overly secret or esoteric information (I'm assuming) that would require an unusual method of discovery. The assumption is that he was there to see it or he heard about it. Either from one of the direct sources or somebody else.

    So long as the scene hasn't been contrived for the reader's benefit and the conversation isn't blatantly info-dumpy, you should be okay. People ask people questions all the time. And people intentionally corner other people to pump them for information all the time too. How else would you MC acquire information from another person? Satellite surveillance?
     
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  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    John Scalzi, Old Man's War

    In Chapter 2, we find out through dialogue that there was a nuclear war between America and India, that America won, and that the Colonization Union allows India to send settlers to other planets while Americans can only go as soldiers to protect the colonists.

    We learn this because one of the recruits to the Space Marines is incredibly angry about this arrangement ;)
     
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  4. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I think the key here is, as both Homer and Simpson (Har har har har) alluded to, is that there needs to be a reason for the conversation. It needs to do more than just get information to the reader. If the conversation is solely for the purpose of informing the reader, then it will feel contrived. But if the conversation is a conflict in its own right, and adds to the characterization/furthers the plot/what have you, then it will go unnoticed.

    Double duty. This goes for most things in writing, but you should be looking for ways to make the conversation do more than one thing, make it important to understanding the plot, characters, theme, etc.
     
  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, you can go one level away from things.

    Peter paged through the wine list. "White. Red. Is there really a difference, beyond that? You said that you met Sue at a wine tasting; does she know this stuff? I want to impress this one."

    This also works without dialogue:

    Peter paged through the wine list. White. Red. Was there really a difference, beyond that? John once said that he'd met Sue at a wine tasting; maybe she knew this stuff.

    Rather than character A explaining things to character B, you can wrap that conversation in something. An argument, a goal, teasing, and so on.

    Facts: Jane knows that Mary is paid on commission, and often lives a feast-or-famine existence as a result. Jane has a controlling husband. Mary often tries to persuade Jane to solve that problem. Jane's son has special needs and requires expensive therapy.

    Dialogue:

    Jane leaned slightly to see the gauge. "You know you're below an eighth of a tank, right?"

    Mary said, "Yup. I'll fill up when my check comes."

    "What happens if it goes empty before then?"

    "You drive us to lunch."

    Jane shook her head. "John would see the miles."

    Incredulous, Mary asked, "He checks your odometer?"

    "Yep."

    "OK, hon, we're using my next commission check to get you a lawyer."

    "Not happening. John's insurance covers the speech therapist and the physical therapy. I'm sticking it out."
     
  6. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    I don't think you're giving dialogue enough credit. It's a natural form of exposition because - as mentioned above - people do ask questions in reality (it's "as you know ..." lectures that should be avoided), and it's a great method of characterization if done well.

    I'm reading Dune at the moment and so far it's had tons of expository dialogue.
     
  7. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    But this would be head-hopping?

    @Spencer1990 - you say the conversation has to serve a purpose other than relaying info, but is the fact the MC wants to know sufficient purpose? If not, then what other purpose is there?

    To be a little clearer, I need to answer some questions I suspect the reader will be asking at this point. And yes, I know that mystery is good, but it's not relevant in this case as the questions the reader is likely asking will be concerned with what they may think are illogicalities.

    It happens to me all the time when watching movies (sorry to make the comparison again). Something will happen and I'll be thinking, 'This is stupid. Why doesn't he just bla bla...' and it irritates me when these things are explained.

    @izzybot - I suspect you're right. What you say is encouraging.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2017
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    As long as your POV character knows the fact, it's not head-hopping. If you expand it to tell us all about how John feels about that meeting, about how he still smells the scent of the jasmine in the sun-soaked arbor, blah blah blah, then it's head-hopping. But providing a fact that Peter knows, without telling us where he got it, isn't head-hopping.
     
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  9. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    No, because it can reasonably expected that the POV character is already in possession of the information.
     
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  10. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    But he's not in possession, and he doesn't know.
     
  11. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And head-hopping. Lots and lots of head-hopping.

    Your example said:

    What I'm saying is that you don't need to qualify it with a "during an earlier conversation." If John and Peter know each other--and they must by virtue of having a conversation--you don't need to explain to the reader how Peter knows something fairly innocent about John... like how he became involved with Sue.
     
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  12. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    Then show the conversation, especially if it's important, but be sure to inject conflict and reason for the conversation other than just informing the reader.
     
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  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm confused now. I thought that the original example was that he recalled a conversation in which he was told that fact? That means that he does know, right?
     
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  14. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    I'm honestly not sure what the difference is between head hopping and just writing in omniscient third.
     
  15. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    No, what I said was:
    I was giving an example of how I could have the conversation off-screen, but unless I tell the reader this they'll wonder how the MC knows this stuff.

    If I had a passage that went thusly (assuming John is the MC):

    Sally was sat at the bar. John walked over.

    'Hi, Sally. I'm John. Nice to meet you.'

    Sally smiled. 'Hi, John.'

    Sally was thirty-seven and still sore from her last break-up.

    That, to me, is head-hopping. Why would the reader assume John knew this stuff?

    Aaaaand we're back to why the third-person voice sucks feckin arse so much!!
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2017
  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    If John and Peter are friends, they really won't wonder about the bread-and-butter stuff like how John met his wife. They'll assume that John told Peter, without having to be told that.

    Imagine that, say, John is deciding where to take a date. You can just say:

    Where to take her? The Madden had the best steaks, but the Wisteria Lounge, in spite of the name, was much more romantic.

    You don't have to say,

    When he went to the Madden in March, two years ago, he learned that their steaks were excellent. And his cousin had assured him that the Wisteria Lounge, despite the name, had the most romantic dining room in town.

    You don't need to provide provenance for everything the character knows--unless it's weird fact that they're quite unlikely to know, you can just have them know it.
     
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  17. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    You're not understanding.

    I'm not talking about explaining how the MC knows stuff, I'm talking about providing information about a secondary character.

    Also, they're not friends. I'm 8,000 words in and the two characters met for the first time early in chapter one.
     
  18. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I think I need to call a halt here if no one minds.

    I'm clearly not making myself clear and I'm getting a little dispirited by it all.

    Thanks for the help and advice, everyone.
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, it's still an interesting conversation, so I hope that the thread continues even if you don't want to participate.
     
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  20. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, feel free :D
     
  21. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I'll just leave this here, although I'm not sure I'm any the wiser. The example from the bad romance novel still seems to me to make an assumption the reader is aware of the fact the MC knows this stuff. Of course here they're husband and wife, so I suppose that assumption could be made, but what if they've only just met?

     
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  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Certainly a husband should know if his wife has a business, what the business is, etc--I wouldn't worry even a little bit about presenting those facts as facts that are within the MC's knowledge. Similarly, it's reasonable to just throw around facts that friends know about each other, as long as they're reasonably easy-to-know facts.

    When people don't know each other well, then, yes, you might need to offer a little bit of provenance for how/why they know, and dialogue is one of the many possible ways to do it. But it's better to wrap that dialogue in another layer, to keep the reader from realizing that he's being fed information.

    This is, of course, all assuming that we're in third person limited. In omniscient, you can provide whatever you please.
     
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  23. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "Chronic City" by Jonathan Lethem
    It's not lazy, it's just obvious. When you use direct dialog (words in quotes, tags, etc.), you increase the proportion of the message. Everything takes longer to say, and so it becomes more important. The problem is that everything's not that important, and sometimes, seeing it all tediously spelled out is a drag. And I would agree with you, that's often an amateur mistake because the reader doesn't always care about the details, just the message.

    If you don't want to spell it out word for word, you can use indirect dialog. It's more of a conversation in summary. I suppose it's still narration, but the conversational flow is in place. You can make conversations seem long this way without resorting to the drudgery of words that aren't interesting. Then you jump back in at the good part.

    I want to write a vignette too! (this is what I do with my lunch break) I'll start with indirect discourse and end with direct discourse.

    The host listened intently as Lady Beatrix recounted her wrongs, nodding and frowning thoughtfully, like a concerned friend, which he wasn't. Lady Beatrix told how she'd been seeing Chet off and on for the last year. The lout hardly held her parasol, he wouldn't sup with her family at the manor house, and he refused to wear a cravat. She supposed that he didn't even know how to tie one. Her list of grievances went on and on. Now with little Madeleine here, she didn't know what to do. She swore she didn't sleep around. The baby was his.

    Chet slouched in the seat beside her. He rolled his eyes and told the crowd that "Ya'll don't know nothing."

    It was delicious gossip, and shameful for a lady of the haut ton. When the envelope arrived, the crowd hooted excitedly, like reprobates loosed from the Bethlem Asylum. The host tore open the envelope.

    In a booming voice, he intoned: "Chet, in the case of three month old Baby Madeleine . . ."

    Chet leaned forward and cupped one ear.

    "You are not the father!"

    As Chet pop-locked across the forward stage, Lady Beatrix dashed away. The cameras followed.​
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2017
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  24. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    There is nothing wrong with using dialogue to convey information. What doesn't work too well is if ONLY dialogue is used during a scene. There is more going on when people talk to each other besides just exchanging words.

    When somebody tells you something you didn't know before, you might be surprised. Or shocked. Or angry. Or amused. Or intrigued. Or appalled. If 'you' are the POV character, you will have an inner reaction.

    In fact, you might say nothing at all, and allow the other person to prattle on while your emotions are running riot. Or you might say something very conventional, to throw them off the track while you quietly freak out. As a writer of a novel or short story, how do you convey these emotions, or these thoughts? This is where 'just dialogue' is not always the best tool.

    Learn to use all the tools. Dialogue is often how we exchange information in real life, but there will always be undercurrents that don't make it into what we actually say. A writer must be able to capture these moments or the story can end up reading too quickly and making not much of an impression. Just bla bla bla bla bla.
     
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  25. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I ask that no one who's offered help in this thread takes umbrage when I say this (I accept I probably wasn't explaining myself very well) but @Seven Crowns has really got to the crux of my point. The first example you gave is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, in terms of an alternative to straight out dialogue.

    @jannert - not that I want to blow my own trumpet, but dialogue is where I'm happiest (and at my best (don't judge me by the terrible examples I've given in this thread). I understand and use all the tools you mention, but still felt it would be a lazy way to relay information concerning a secondary character.

    As I say, I feel I need to do this because I suspect the reader will have feasibility questions in their head by this point, and I want to try and iron these out with explanations concerning the characters' actions.
     
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