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Dialogue Dichotomy (1 Viewer)

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vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Dialogue is an element of writing I've studied a LOT, because I write a LOT of dialogue. I've read myriad blogs, and even found a couple to be useful.

What is the dichotomy of which I speak?

One school of dialogue, and the one I respect, maintains that dialogue should give the appearance of being realistic without being realistic. It advises that dialogue be dramatic, succinct, and drive the plot along. To my mind, dialogue which reveals the character's personality qualifies.

Blogs of the other school recommend that dialogue exemplify real speech. They go on and on with examples of real conversations. In my experience, most dialogue I read of this sort is insipid.

Some recommend both in the same blog. LOL

When I report finding few of these blogs to be useful, it's because I've read several where the advice was simply dreadful. This is because there is no vetting in who can write a blog. Reader beware.

Here's the thought which brought me to this post. In Taylor's thread on Schadenfreude, I posted an example with dialogue which includes two "direct addresses" (one character calling the other character's name). If you read theory on direct address, it's discouraged but for a few exceptions, such as beginning a conversation, getting the other character's attention, or dialogue which makes a point. Depending on what you read, you may find other recommendations on exceptions. It's also discussed that direct addresses are dramatic.

I'll maintain that both of my direct addresses are in the "making a point" category, but after reading over that dialogue, I decided to double check the subject. So here we have two different schools. In the "Dramatic dialogue" school, my direct addresses are dramatic. In the "Realistic dialogue" school, my direct addresses are not realistic. A writer could feel like they were the middle of a tug of war with a rope attached to each wrist.

I'm of the opinion, "Use it, but don't overuse it". If I were to use more direct addresses in that dialogue snippet, it would be overused. Some will maintain it already is.

I like stats, so I broke out my latest novel. It has 9263 sentences. Of those, 575 are "one sentence" dialogue (where I'm most likely to include a direct address). Of THOSE, 22 contain direct address. I think I'm on the safe side.

It's a subject I'd welcome seeing more discussion of.

(And, while we have a sticky on dialogue in Hints & Tips, it's 16 years old, written by a member who hasn't participated in 15 years, and omits some useful advice on dialogue. It may be time for an updated sticky).
 
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bazz cargo

Retired Supervisor
Just to add to the mix.
Frequently I use that voice in the back of the head that I talk to myself with as a device within my MC. A sort of internal dialogue.

I use a few 'speech tags' to 'humanise' my dialogue. Sorta a bit kinda like this. With Italics.

I also try to write it so I don't do he said/she said every line.

And finally, I keep it short. Or break it up with something.

Want to do a dialogue off?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
First of all, I had to look up "direct address." And now I'm hesitant to respond to this post because I might learn something new and that will cause me to worry about my own stuff....lol! Remember 'Wasgate'?

However, here are my thoughts. I agree, use it sparingly. (Now I'm going to be counting myself every time I use it to try to calculate a percentage). But, for the purpose of analysis, I was thinking of how I use direct address with my husband, an obvious choice since he is the only person in my bubble.

I would say, "Are we going for a walk," but I likely would not say, "Jack, are we going for a walk?"

However, I would be more likely to say, “Jack, you forgot to put the seat down!”

So I think your theory holds true for me…
 
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Foxee

Patron
Patron
I would say, "Are we going for a walk," but I likely would not say, "Jack, are we going for a walk?"

However, I would be more likely to say, “Jack, you forgot to put the seat down!”

So I think your theory holds true for me…
This is a good point. Maybe you'd have to use his name if he'd gone off into dreamland while putting on his shoes but you've reminded me of an instance where things were tense between my husband and I. I hadn't even realized that I had used his name in a measured tone before I said my piece until he paused and said my name the same way and I thought Uh Oh, that does sound aggressive!
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
One advice I read was to keep dialogue exchanges succinct. Also, if you insert backstory in a character's dialogue it risks sounding unnatural and as if an infodump. Not that it is impossible to include it but a normal conversation is more natural. I got some of these tips as feedback for stories I received comments on.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
My understanding is that written dialogue bears little resemblance to spoken dialogue.

In person, what we talk about shifts as the conversation moves through any number of subjects with very little reason. Individuals try to steer the conversation toward what they want to discuss, while others pull it in another direction, and people frequently talk over each other. It seems to me that people spend more time thinking of what they want to say next than they do listening to what is being said. If written that way, it would be an indecipherable mess.

I use names sparingly. If two people are speaking privately, names can be introduced once then avoided - especially they are different sexes. As long as the reader can tell who's talking, I think it's good.

In a large group the task of writing coherent dialogue becomes difficult for me, and I will use names or titles to keep it clear.

IMO, we can handle it however we like, as long as it works.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
In a large group the task of writing coherent dialogue becomes difficult for me, and I will use names or titles to keep it clear.
I think the characters would also be using names and titles more in a large group and for the same reason.

If your speaker says, "You have toilet paper attached to your shoe, sir," and all the guys look at their foot that's not as targeted as "Sir Weathervane, you have toilet paper attached to your shoe."

Then your speaker only gets run through once which is a timesaver in the action department.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
My understanding is that written dialogue bears little resemblance to spoken dialogue.

In person, what we talk about shifts as the conversation moves through any number of subjects with very little reason. Individuals try to steer the conversation toward what they want to discuss, while others pull it in another direction, and people frequently talk over each other. It seems to me that people spend more time thinking of what they want to say next than they do listening to what is being said. If written that way, it would be an indecipherable mess.

A good observation. Very true, but I find that only some of my conversations are like this. Over the years, I have learned to avoid people who converse in this manner and gravitate to those who converse more like dialogue. Having a good conversation is a discipline. We should avoid doing those things you describe. I find in business conversations, people tend to be more disciplined because they are on paid time, want to get things done and listen because things said are needed. I used to enjoy my interviews as an auditor. Clean and to the point. I have a handful of friends who also know how to have a good conversation and we mutually appreciate each other for it.

I use names sparingly. If two people are speaking privately, names can be introduced once then avoided - especially they are different sexes. As long as the reader can tell who's talking, I think it's good.

In a large group the task of writing coherent dialogue becomes difficult for me, and I will use names or titles to keep it clear.

Yes, I am learning the large group thing is a bit of a challenge. I have had some fun with it, as I do, what people often do when in large groups, is break off into various smaller conversations. It's great for slipping in foreshadowing when they overhear something in another conversation and wonder about it later when it connects to a subsequent event.

Also, people breaking off into smaller groups will waffle in and out of each other's conversations. In this case, I would use names, as people are trying to get someone's attention in the larger group. "Jack, what were you saying about going to the Hampton's for the weekend?"

One more thing to think about and play with...thanks...fun stuff!

 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
My understanding is that written dialogue bears little resemblance to spoken dialogue.

In person, what we talk about shifts as the conversation moves through any number of subjects with very little reason. Individuals try to steer the conversation toward what they want to discuss, while others pull it in another direction, and people frequently talk over each other. It seems to me that people spend more time thinking of what they want to say next than they do listening to what is being said. If written that way, it would be an indecipherable mess.

Yes, this is the first school of dialogue I mentioned. Succinct and dramatic.

I use names sparingly. If two people are speaking privately, names can be introduced once then avoided - especially they are different sexes. As long as the reader can tell who's talking, I think it's good.

I also pay attention to not overdoing direct address. H-o-w-e-v-e-r, the two young people in my fantasy series--they call each other's name all the time. I can't stop them. LOL In my defense, I've known couples who do that. So I'd say if its a thing with personalities, do it for those personalities, just don't let it creep into every character's dialogue.

In a large group the task of writing coherent dialogue becomes difficult for me, and I will use names or titles to keep it clear.

In my first novel, I had a large conference with about ten people contributing. I decided to write it like a script, so I started each dialogue line with the name and a colon, then their dialogue. I think I mentioned this a few days ago, and one beta read hated it. I didn't care. I think the average reader would appreciate the clarity.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
In my first novel, I had a large conference with about ten people contributing. I decided to write it like a script, so I started each dialogue line with the name and a colon, then their dialogue. I think I mentioned this a few days ago, and one beta read hated it. I didn't care. I think the average reader would appreciate the clarity.

It's not that hard to do it without the colon - it is more work though. Instead of names use gender, rank, description, things like that.

ETA:
As a plotter I often diagram conversations before I write them. Ideally I want it linear, even though regular conversation rarely is.
 

Backstroke_Italics

Senior Member
I've read a lot of court transcripts in my research. By law, they have to be extremely accurate, recording every word exactly as it is spoken. The result? Most courtroom transcripts are borderline unintelligible. I usually have to read them over two or three times. That's what dialogue looks like when you present a faithful representation of speech. I would never make it through a book written that way.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
It's not that hard to do it without the colon - it is more work though. Instead of names use gender, rank, description, things like that.

Unless people do this well, it can be off-putting. Once you have introduced a character by name, it can be odd to subsequently refer to them as the young man, the officer, the father, etc. Any tricks to doing this right?
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Unless people do this well, it can be off-putting. Once you have introduced a character by name, it can be odd to subsequently refer to them as the young man, the officer, the father, etc. Any tricks to doing this right?

Just use your ear. Read it or play it back, if it sounds right, it's probably good. A character identifier isn't needed with each line of dialogue. Keep a character's words within a single paragraph or unbroken block if possible. Use mannerisms, as in, He sighed. "Well, I feel stupid." (Avoid pleonasms of course. I ran a cross one the other day: She shrugged her shoulders. Seriously? What else is she going to shrug, her toes?)

Inception will have some tricky dialogue. MC has a computer chip implanted in his brain to stop his stuttering - but it comes with a guest. So, he'll have thought conversations with her while talking to people around him. It will be tricky, but fun.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
So far as character identification, I've got an idea guaranteed to provoke some disagreement and hatred. :)

In the history of the printing press, early on there weren't too many type styles. And in the old days setting type, which still encompasses most of the years of the printed word, was a time consuming and painstaking task. I'm just making the point that WHY my idea isn't "a thing" likely has more to do with practical barriers than stylistic.

So what's the idea? What if a character's speech got its own font? People have their own voices outside of their speech patterns, so why not carry that to purely visual media.

Pro: You never have to worry about character identification in a long sequence of dialogue again. Carefully chosen, the font could help define personality.
Con: In the wrong hands, and in dialogue with too many characters, it could start to look like a page full of hieroglyphics.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
So far as character identification, I've got an idea guaranteed to provoke some disagreement and hatred. :)

In the history of the printing press, early on there weren't too many type styles. And in the old days setting type, which still encompasses most of the years of the printed word, was a time consuming and painstaking task. I'm just making the point that WHY my idea isn't "a thing" likely has more to do with practical barriers than stylistic.

So what's the idea? What if a character's speech got its own font? People have their own voices outside of their speech patterns, so why not carry that to purely visual media.

Pro: You never have to worry about character identification in a long sequence of dialogue again. Carefully chosen, the font could help define personality.
Con: In the wrong hands, and in dialogue with too many characters, it could start to look like a page full of hieroglyphics.

I'd entertain this idea for sure. But another con would be if people can't remember. I suppose you could have a schematic at the front, or a key at the bottom of each page.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I'd entertain this idea for sure. But another con would be if people can't remember. I suppose you could have a schematic at the front, or a key at the bottom of each page.

You'd begin each instance of dialogue with the same context cues as usual. That gives the reader the legend for the fonts. The only person who needs a more formal legend is the author, because each character's font would need to be consistent through the entire work. A second danger is if the author accidentally used the wrong font for a character, the reader is now confused. However, I've seen plenty of times where an author meant a line for Character A, but wrote "Yes I can," said B--and other mistakes which confuse the reader as to speaker.

A technical hurdle involves only using fonts available on the target platform, and that will vary from platform to platform. This leads to creating a paragraph style for each character, so that when preparing for print instead of Kindle (for example), you'd only have to select a different set of fonts in the styles instead of going through the manuscript quote by quote, which would not only be far too arduous, but is a process open to numerous goofs.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
You'd begin each instance of dialogue with the same context cues as usual. That gives the reader the legend for the fonts.
Not sure what you mean by this. A legend at the start of every conversation?

Another pro I could see is that if you write a series and have a loyal following, they would come to know the fonts by heart.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Not sure what you mean by this. A legend at the start of every conversation?

Another pro I could see is that if you write a series and have a loyal following, they would come to know the fonts by heart.

I mean we wouldn't change the nature of how we already define speakers. We wouldn't be putting all the load on the character's font. Just because we've introduced a character's font in an earlier conversation, we wouldn't leave out cues in the next section of dialogue:

"Hey, Sally!"

John waved at the woman stepping out of the drug store. Picking her way through traffic, she joined him. John winced. He hadn't meant her to jaywalk.

"I take it you've got some news on who bought the old MacTavish estate?"

"Yeah, and you're not going to believe who it is ..."

John paused, as people do when they want to savor control over information another person eagerly awaits.

"If you try to drag this out ..." Sally drew her foot back in a pretend threat to kick.

"Okay--okay. It's that new guy in town who's been in one of Joanne's rentals--the one on Taylor street."

"No one knows anything about him, do they?"

"Only Ben Freegal, and since he's an attorney, he's not feeding the local gossip, damn him."

"Well, you know I've been interested in that place ever since that silly Ghost Show did a segment out there last year, so I appreciate you thinking of me."

"You bet. If I hear more, I'll let you know. You do the same?"

"Deal."

Notes:
a) The selection of fonts here (and the size control) doesn't really let me do this like I would like to.
b) See how you've now got us all working your name into fiction?
c) I have to watch out when I make up these samples. Now I want the rest of the story ... damn it.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I mean we wouldn't change the nature of how we already define speakers. We wouldn't be putting all the load on the character's font. Just because we've introduced a character's font in an earlier conversation, we wouldn't leave out cues in the next section of dialogue:

Notes:
a) The selection of fonts here (and the size control) doesn't really let me do this like I would like to.
b) See how you've now got us all working your name into fiction?
c) I have to watch out when I make up these samples. Now I want the rest of the story ... damn it.

Ok I see what you mean, you would give clues in the first few lines of who it is and then leave out the character identification for the rest of the conversation, much the same as we do now, but it would be more useful if you have more than two people speaking.

Dialogue is the best...I do want to know more about the guy who bought the MacTavish estate. Perhaps he won the lottery...was just renting until he closed the deal... I was tempted to continue on with your dialogue, but then stopped myself for fear I'd get into trouble with the moderator. :)
 

Matchu

Senior Member
"Hey Sally!"

John waved at the woman stood outside of the drug store. She picked her way through traffic. John winced. He hadn't really meant her to jaywalk.

"Hey John, you got a bug up your ass?" she said.

"No, it's only with the regulations..." said his face. "Y'know in my background, the block superintendent, remember?"

"Go fuck yourself, John...worm."

"Don't you want to know who purchased the old MacTavish estate?"

"Dickweed."

"Sandra!"

The Greyhound bus screeched in the highway. Underneath, the remains of Sandra lay spread across and over the two nearest wheels. Her head rolled in the gutter, the metaphor for our local governance, advertisement at the very, very least..
 
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