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Weekend Links: Writing Dialogue
A lot of people assume dialogue is easy to write because ‘It’s just a conversation! I have those all the time.’
But real conversations are, for the most part, really boring:
- Lots of verbal tics (uh, um, like, well, I mean)
- Lack of conflict (How was your day? Great, yours? Pretty good!)
- Cliches and repetitive phrasing
Writing dialogue that too closely mirrors real conversation will give you lots of repetition on the page. You don’t want that. Repetition is bad. It’s boring. It sucks. It’s totally lame.
All that said, here are a few essential reads re: writing dialogue that is great and awesome.
On Saidisms and Dialogue Tags:
- He Said, She Shouted Loudly by Nathan Bransford
- Verbs and Dialogue Tags: Or, Stop Smiling Words by Annette Lyon
On Pacing and Creating Conflict:
- Am I Talking To Myself, Or Is This Guy Not Holding Up His End Of The Conversation? by Anne Mini
- Speak To Me, Protagonist. Or Blink Twice To Let Me Know That You’re Alive by Anne Mini
On Info-Dumping, Hollywood Narration and As You Know, Bob
Things to keep in mind when writing dialogues
Yesterday, I got rejected by Space and Time. Soon after the e-mail came in, I took a good, hard look at my short story to see if I could improve anything for the next magazine I submitted it to (Lightspeed Magazine). It mostly looked good, but one thing I noticed was that when I wrote the dialogue between the two main characters, I wasn’t keeping certain things in mind that I should have. Hopefully, you guys can learn from my mistakes. Here are some things you should think about while writing dialogues.
- The social status of each speaker
- The setting/environmental factors
- The speakers’ ages
- Words that the speakers tend to say often
- How smart each speaker is
- What they want
- How much they enjoy talking
- How long they have to talk
- What they enjoy talking about
- Who else could be listening
- How the speakers wish to be seen
- Topics each speaker wants to avoid
- How much they trust each other
- Things only one speaker knows
- What each wants and is willing to give
With these in mind, your dialogues should turn out much more realistic.
The follower of the day is optionalcake.
Dialogue tag alternatives
This post is not about whether said should be used as often as possible (it should).
I’ve noticed that a lot of people have trouble attributing dialog without sticking “he said” (or any other dialogue tag) at the end of every set of quotation marks, which gets repetitive. Ending dialogue tags are inelegant and often unnecessary, and should be used with prudence.
- Put the dialogue tag in the middle of the speech. For example, “I think,” said Jordan, “that whales are generally a bit bigger than that.” This version of the dialogue tag gives the added bonus of a pause in somebody’s speech longer than the usual break at the end of a sentence, which is otherwise hard to convey.
- Give one or both participants in the conversation a distinct way of speaking. As a rather heavy-handed example, no reader is going to wonder if it’s the sailor or the baker talking when they see the word “Arrrr” every few sentences.
- Have the characters reference their past experiences. Nobody but the baker can talk about the spies he saw in his bakery. In my opinion, this is the best way to convey who’s talking, as it’s pretty easy for somebody to talk about something only they know without making their speech awkward.
- Make one speaker reference the other speaker, either by name or by something the other person has done.
Problem Of Papua, The Government Degree Request Mui Dialog ! http://newish.info/138736-problem-of-papua-the-government-degree-request-mui-dialog
“ 500 dias com ela, mas antes seu sobrenome do lado do meu. — Tá faltando, mô. — O que? — Seu sobrenome do lado do meu. — Franzoni, é esquisito amor. — Não, é feito pra mim. — É feio. — É lindo. — Não é nada. — É tudo. — Ela apoia sua cabeça no ombro dele. Os dois dão "play" e o filme começa. Após 30 minutos de filme, ela interrompe: — Mô, fica melhor Fernanda Franzoni Corgosinho ou Fernanda Corgosinho Franzoni? — Sei lá. — Mô... — Tá, prefiro o primeiro. — Fica lindo. — Então casa comigo? — Caso, hoje e todos os dias da minha vida. — Melosa, não pode ver um filme. — Só com você meu amor. — Agora sem pausas? — Sem pausas no amor? — Nele e no filme também.”—Fernanda Corgosinho, Catacrese-s. Sobrenomes unidos e sem pausas no amor.
A woman was lamenting about her highly intelligent son.
Not really lamenting about him but perhaps being perplexed by him.
“His teachers all rave about him. He excels at all his school work. I never have to tell him to do homework. He does it on his own without any prompting. During his last conference, the principal said she thinks he might even be gifted. But I tell you, he is the shyest, most awkward kid. He can’t relate to anybody. Plus, he lacks all common sense.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, he can’t tell the difference between the recycle bin and the trash bin. He’s constantly mixes them up when he’s doing his chores, throwing trash in the recycle bin and recyclables in the trash bin. We even got a letter from the city about it. One’s blue and one’s black, for God’s sake.”
“Perhaps he doesn’t give a shit.”
“His father and I have sat him down and explained to him time and again. But there are other things besides that, like all toothbrushes go in the toothbrush holder on the sink. His sister’s, mine, his father’s are all right there, plus there’s a slot for his toothbrush. But for some reason he just lays it right down on the sink, right next to the toothbrush holder even. There’s just lots of little things like that. He just lacks common sense. I don’t understand how someone can be so smart but still so lacking in common sense, in everyday ordinary smarts.”
“Have you ever thought that it went both ways?”
“Yeah, like the people who are socially adept, gifted even, with lots of friends. People who are extroverted and involved and making smart, reasonable decisions, people who know where the trash goes and, what’s more, care. People who put their toothbrush in the toothbrush holder in the designated slot, has it ever occurred to you that they might be dumb as rocks?”
“Seriously. I’ve heard that complaint before a lot—that super-smart people lack common sense. But take a person with common sense coming out their ass and ask them who Schopenhauer is and all you get is a blank look.”