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Are You Terrified Of Dialogue? (1 Viewer)

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
One of my weaknesses is definitely dialogue. I'm pretty good when it comes to every day conversations and can weave in deeper meanings quite well, but when it comes to anything beyond my 'experience', I get terrified. It's not just the vocabulary, it's the ins and outs of the life behind the voice. I can easily sort the vocabulary out with a hefty round of googling and perhaps build out a possible life in the same way, but will it ring true? That's the question that terrifies me. How could I possibly know unless I've lived alongside real world representatives?

In the novel The Sixth Chamber, I'm going to have religion, politics and business and I have absolutely no experience in any of those subjects. I can guesstimate (to use a horrible word) and get something akin to the core of how the character would speak, but those little details may well feel hollow if I express them incorrectly. It needs to feel genuine.

I have absolutely no fear whatsoever about any other element of writing. For me though, a character does not feel real until they speak. No matter how well I describe the character, their place of work or the world they live in, if I get the dialogue wrong, the whole thing collapses. I have to imagine this is a common fear because of that.

Am I alone on this? If I am, what element of writing terrifies you?
 

NajaNoir

Senior Member
Very!
I suffer from social anxiety and I think it shows in my writing. It's like I don't know how people talk, even though I do, I spend a lot of time just observing them. Still, I think my dialogue is lacking, so I tend to keep it short.

I'm hoping to improve upon it, the more I write.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
It needs to feel genuine.

I have absolutely no fear whatsoever about any other element of writing. For me though, a character does not feel real until they speak. No matter how well I describe the character, their place of work or the world they live in, if I get the dialogue wrong, the whole thing collapses. I have to imagine this is a common fear because of that.

Am I alone on this? If I am, what element of writing terrifies you?
My biggest turn-off for movies and books is when the dialogue is not believable. But in my opinion, a good majority of dialogue is not true to life. Because no author can be expected to have lived through everything they write about. The good news is, most readers don't have experience in the areas you portray, so some of it won't get noticed.

Do you ever wonder what real police officers think when they watch the multitude of cop shows and movies? But civilians watch them and accept them for what they are. Entertainment. In fact, if you were to write things too true to life, it might sound just utterly boring. Ever watch a reality cop show? Notice the difference in the dialogue?

However, I appreciate you want it to be genuine. But, there's no need to fret. If you are looking for some realistic undertones, there are lots of resources. For example, I was writing a minor plotline about card counting at a poker table in Vegas. I searched "card counting" on YouTube. There were hours and hours of various pros speaking in jargon about the technique. I also interviewed a professional card counter. And, I found a novel with card counting as the basis for the plot.

The bottom line is if you want it to be realistic, and you don't have experience, you have to do the legwork. It's just like anything else in writing, if you want quality, it takes hard work.

AZ, If I can help you with any business conversation, that's an area I'm well versed, let me know. Also, check out the "Areas of Expertise" thread in the Research forum.
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
My biggest turn-off for movies and books is when the dialogue is not believable. But in my opinion, a good majority of dialogue is not true to life. Because no author can be expected to have lived through everything they write about. The good news is, most readers don't have experience in the areas you portray, so some of it won't get noticed.

Do you ever wonder what real police officers think when they watch the multitude of cop shows and movies? But civilians watch them and accept them for what they are. Entertainment. In fact, if you were to write things too true to life, it might sound just utterly boring. Ever watch a reality cop show? Notice the difference in the dialogue?

However, I appreciate you want it to be genuine. But, there's no need to fret. If you are looking for some realistic undertones, there are lots of resources. For example, I was writing a minor plotline about card counting at a poker table in Vegas. I searched "card counting" on YouTube. There were hours and hours of various pros speaking in jargon about the technique. I also interviewed a professional card counter. And, I found a novel with card counting as the basis for the plot.

The bottom line is if you want it to be realistic, and you don't have experience, you have to do the legwork. It's just like anything else in writing, if you want quality, it takes hard work.

AZ, If I can help you with any business conversation, that's an area I'm well versed, let me know. Also, check out the "Areas of Expertise" thread in the Research forum.
As soon as I wrote that, I had you in mind :)
 

Riptide

WF Veterans
Are you worried about jargon? Because really, as long as you have the person's personality down, then those topics should be filtered through those voices and personalities. I don't think people change too much when discussing things like that. Unless you want people to change per the topics they're speaking on or you want them to simply sound knowledgeable on it... Idk, I've never worried about it unless i want them to be educated on that topic because no matter what you get people from all walks of life no matter what field you're in or what you're talking about. They're going to speak how they speak. Act how they act.

I've dealt with people not knowing the jargon of my military career and it actually takes them away from the story sometimes. Depends on the person.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Very!
I suffer from social anxiety and I think it shows in my writing. It's like I don't know how people talk, even though I do, I spend a lot of time just observing them. Still, I think my dialogue is lacking, so I tend to keep it short.

I'm hoping to improve upon it, the more I write.
The thing is - your dialogue isn't people talking, and it's only sometimes "how people talk". Dialogue is the characters telling your story and revealing themselves to the reader. It should sound like "how people MIGHT talk", but be more interesting, and clever where appropriate. If you can write clever exposition, you can write clever dialogue. You just put it in quotes.
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
Are you worried about jargon? Because really, as long as you have the person's personality down, then those topics should be filtered through those voices and personalities. I don't think people change too much when discussing things like that. Unless you want people to change per the topics they're speaking on or you want them to simply sound knowledgeable on it... Idk, I've never worried about it unless i want them to be educated on that topic because no matter what you get people from all walks of life no matter what field you're in or what you're talking about. They're going to speak how they speak. Act how they act.

I've dealt with people not knowing the jargon of my military career and it actually takes them away from the story sometimes. Depends on the person.
Not just the jargon, the correct use of that jargon and terminology. We easily spot a thesaurus moment because we're writers but we don't necessarily spot a 'google' moment because we have no real experience of that world. I'm talking specifically dialogue here. I can easily find a way around ignorance in other areas, but when people speak, it's a completely different kettle of fish.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
My dialogue is terrified of me. Probably why I generally don't have much and it's usually curt and to the point. I'd venture it's adequate for the stated purpose, but unlikely to win any awards. Then again, that's not really it's purpose as I'm concerned.

There's a kind of loose rule out there that says most authors don't get in trouble writing overmuch about what they don't know - rather, they get in trouble using excessive detail in proving to their readers that they do.

The short version of this is that I don't need to have characters do much speaking to establish themselves. My chief protag probably has the fewest lines of any character in his own universe (figure that out) which is offset by the entirety of the world being described from his point of view. Doing it that way allows for a character with a far more distinctive and rich inner life than one who's eminently quotable.

Then again, he's one of those sorts that doesn't put much value on words, so what's being said is usually of lesser import than what's being done.
 

Lawless

Senior Member
My biggest turn-off for movies and books is when the dialogue is not believable. But in my opinion, a good majority of dialogue is not true to life.
OMG, you're taking the words right out of my mouth. I can't believe how it's possible when a world-famous TV series has dialogue that sounds artificial and unnatural. I'd like to ask the writer if he really hasn't heard how people talk in real life.

Now, I sincerely sympathize with people who have social anxiety, I'm just bewildered when the creators of a multi-million dollar movie or TV series can't (or don't bother to) find a writer who is not suffering from it.
 
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Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Writers are also actors imo. We have to become the characters we're creating in order to write what they might say in a given situation. So instead of externalizing the characters, internalizing them, become them, then consider what you would say.

Remember, no character is a thing outside of the writer. All of our characters are a reflection of us, no matter how demented or perfect they may seem. Any madness your character displays tells the reader what the writers see as madness.
 
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Travalgar

Senior Member
Another point about making dialogues sound natural.

I remember reading somewhere that dialogues in fiction aren't supposed to mimic real life people talking 100%. In day-to-day life, people use ahhs and umms, on-the-spot improvisations, trailing off, stutters, backchannels, etc. that won't necessarily be easy to write (or comfortable to read).

"Danny, Danny. Hey, Danny! Yeah, you know what, you... Yeah, that one thing I mentioned, mentioned, uh, earlier. About the whole Scheherezade t-thing. Yeah, well.... I-I-I think we, we botched them up. Botched them up good. Real, real good."

(Alright, alright. Not the best kind of examples. But hopefully you get my point.)

"Natural" dialogues like that might sound normal and real if you heard it being said by a man standing on the back alley of your local pub, but once you try to put it into writing, it turned into a lagging, slow, awkward piece.

I say don't be too bothered on trying to make speeches natural. Fiction is not real life. Just write it naturally enough that your readers are willing to suspend their disbelief.
 

KeganThompson

Staff member
Board Moderator
Considering my stories are all about character interaction to the point where I should probably just be a screenwriter, i'd say no, dialogue doesn't scare me. lol (but you knew that)

What makes me tremble is pacing and story structure. I started writing again at the beginning of this year and boy did I write a mess. Putting scenes in the right places and keeping the story interesting, consistent, while having good pacing is hard. That's why I decided to plot more. I need to be more strategic and filter my ideas. Currently, I'm plotting while drafting. Its, ugh interesting to say the least. 😆
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Another point about making dialogues sound natural.

I remember reading somewhere that dialogues in fiction aren't supposed to mimic real life people talking 100%. In day-to-day life, people use ahhs and umms, on-the-spot improvisations, trailing off, stutters, backchannels, etc. that won't necessarily be easy to write (or comfortable to read).

"Danny, Danny. Hey, Danny! Yeah, you know what, you... Yeah, that one thing I mentioned, mentioned, uh, earlier. About the whole Scheherezade t-thing. Yeah, well.... I-I-I think we, we botched them up. Botched them up good. Real, real good."

(Alright, alright. Not the best kind of examples. But hopefully you get my point.)

"Natural" dialogues like that might sound normal and real if you heard it being said by a man standing on the back alley of your local pub, but once you try to put it into writing, it turned into a lagging, slow, awkward piece.

I say don't be too bothered on trying to make speeches natural. Fiction is not real life. Just write it naturally enough that your readers are willing to suspend their disbelief.
Using patterns of speech like that work when you want to emphasize something in particular, but I absolutely agree their use as a consistent element wears thin, not just on the reader, but the author. :)

I'll use them in circumstances that reveal character and mood. (Did you eat the last cookie? Well ... um ... yes.) It's okay to portray a trait like hesitancy ... or maybe anger (You-you-you ate the last cookie?!") I've mentioned elsewhere I use dialogue tags less frequently than most people you read. Instead, I rely on context, incidental action, associated internal dialogue, and other cues. For example, I might have one character drop their g's while the other speaker does not (or say 'gonna' and 'gotta').

Then, YES @Tettsuo ... I absolutely role-play my characters in dialogue. I wrote some dialogue last night that @PiP liked, and she recommended I write an article on dialogue to include in the Resources section when we get it going. I wondered how well I can express the main thing I do, which is role-play the characters. I may start a dialogue with a very general goal for it, but I role-play the characters as I write each line of dialogue, and I rarely know what the next character's line is until I finish the line I'm typing. In that particular section of dialogue, PiP had already written an excellent dialogue scene between the MMC and the FMC at dinner.

Because of a couple of things that happen later, I wanted to add to it for an even stronger sell of an affinity building session. And I guess I'm not going into it as cold as I think, because I DO know those characters and activities in the book. That's what they talked about, and in doing so I got to build character a bit more, plus add an additional element of feeling between them.

So yes, pay attention to @Tettsuo and be able to think and then speak for each character.
 
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Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Then, YES @Tettsuo ... I absolutely role-play my characters in dialogue. I wrote some dialogue last night that @PiP liked, and she recommended I write an article on dialogue to include in the Resources section when we get it going. I wondered how well I can express the main thing I do, which is role-play the characters. I may start a dialogue with a very general goal for it, but I role-play the characters as I write each line of dialogue, and I rarely know what the next character's line is until I finish the line I'm typing. In that particular section of dialogue, PiP had already written an excellent dialogue scene between the MMC and the FMC at dinner.
99.99% of the times I break from my outline is due to a character not saying something I thought they'd say when I created the outline.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
99.99% of the times I break from my outline is due to a character not saying something I thought they'd say when I created the outline.
Yes! :) And @PiP and I have been all over that in our WIP. When we did our live interactive dialogue session--I wrote the lines for the MMC and she for the FMC--they were at a table at a poolside barbecue so don't be getting any funny ideas about what KIND of dialogue it was ;-)--she had her character say the two had exchanged "hundreds of emails". We do have two chapters where they exchange business emails--that's how they met--but "hundreds?"--that was news to me. :)

The MMC's sister is on a lounge nearby eavesdropping, and I had the MMC glance around at her with a stern expression ... understanding in the moment she must have opened a new Gmail account on his computer and catfished the FMC on his behalf. It became a humorous subplot as he worried about not knowing things in those emails which might come up in conversation. His sister had meant to 'fess up', but then was nervous to do so in time.

That's just one example ... so far. LOL
 

PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
I am not terrified of the dialogue.I am more anxious regarding appropriate dialogue tags and relevant description so the characters engage the reader .I tend to write the dialogue then add mood and description etc later…. i write in layers the same as when I paint with acrylics. I start with the background colour aka dialogue then work from there.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I think I rely too much on dialogue, myself. I need to figure out other ways of showing.

Something interesting imo…
Lately it was pointed out to me (and I think that it’s true) that when a speaker is describing another person it tells us more about the speaker than the person being described. You find out the speaker’s tone/attitude and how much they care about the person or just how interested they are and also what they find to be important or lovely or hateful. You can learn a bit about the person being described, but a whole lot more about the speaker or if the speaker is the author we find out about the author.
 
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