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Suspension of Disbelief: Dialogue (1 Viewer)

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EternalGreen

Senior Member
I used to struggle with dialogue, because I wan't able to trust the reader's suspension of disbelief.

"People don't talk like that!" was the reply I took precautions to avoid. I bent over backwards to make the dialogue sound "authentic" but it didn't help me much.

Generally, my paranormal and fantastical characters seemed to have the best dialogue (based on the feedback I got) and I think this is because I could not impose a pedestrian framework of how they were "supposed to" talk.

Unless you're writing nonfiction or hyper-realism, I think: "this character is talking slightly unusually," is the least of your concerns when it comes to suspension of disbelief.

I think it's important to remember that as artists, our job is to render an "artistic interpretation" of events that might happen in real life - not always the most realistic one.
 

Joker

Senior Member
I dunno, I think it depends.

You're talking about "ums" and "ahs" right? Diction? I think it depends on the tone you're going for. I would find it odd for someone to stumble over their words in a grand speech in a high fantasy novel but in a grim detective novel where they're sweating a perp, it's almost to be expected.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
I'm talking about characters speaking in well-polished or poetic lines of prose.

I used to try to force my characters to speak in really casual vernacular to avoid seeming stilted, but I don't worry about that much anymore.

I would never go so far as to adopt the extreme, apostrophe-butchered dialogue, thankfully.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I have so many conversations in my head with imaginary people, people from the past, people I will never meet, the whole thing, that the naturalness is already there. The problem then is that many of them sound a bit English and a bit middle class. Still, that's where the traditional fantasy genre is useful, when you have a headful of ready-made hobbits opining about tea and whatnot.
 

Olly Buckle

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Patron
Fifty-ish years ago I remember reading someone who had been doing research into conversation. To represent it he had to use colours and columns, people talk over each other, they catch visual clues and realise they don't need to finish sentences. Writing it the way it is said in real life would be shambolic. Besides that all sorts of stuff is going on which would have nothing to do with a story, a story doesn't tell you everything, it is selective, but in a real life bit of dialogue people are remembering what happened with their cousin on holiday last year, or whatever, there is dominance, submission, status, all being sorted out. In a story the role of dialogue is usually to advance the plot, so simple, nothing like reality. It is not about making it realistic, if you can make it believable that's good, but mostly make it a good read.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
As Olly said - written conversations have practically nothing in common with real life. People talk over each other, half listen as they are planning the next thing they will say, and the whole thing wanders like a drunken sailor. When writing, I try to have my conversations behave like a falling brick dropped out of a tall building.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Fifty-ish years ago I remember reading someone who had been doing research into conversation. To represent it he had to use colours and columns, people talk over each other, they catch visual clues and realise they don't need to finish sentences. Writing it the way it is said in real life would be shambolic. Besides that all sorts of stuff is going on which would have nothing to do with a story, a story doesn't tell you everything, it is selective, but in a real life bit of dialogue people are remembering what happened with their cousin on holiday last year, or whatever, there is dominance, submission, status, all being sorted out. In a story the role of dialogue is usually to advance the plot, so simple, nothing like reality. It is not about making it realistic, if you can make it believable that's good, but mostly make it a good read.

I remember reading a transcription of someone, some educated person, a doctor I believe, and thinking: wow, this person's grammar is really terrible.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
As Olly said - written conversations have practically nothing in common with real life. People talk over each other, half listen as they are planning the next thing they will say, and the whole thing wanders like a drunken sailor. When writing, I try to have my conversations behave like a falling brick dropped out of a tall building.
I wouldn't say that. I think written conversations are optimized. Tangents are eliminated. Pauses are eliminated. Everything is directed and focused with the intent moving the story forward. Two people can have hours of conversation that goes nowhere, but in writing, that's just not feasible. It's kind of like when we remove the normal actions of life, like taking a dump. Taking a dump is real life, but rarely does a writer put those actions in the story.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
Yeah, I've paid a lot of attention to it -- of course there are pauses, verbal ticks and backtracking in actual conversation, but I don't think dialog is all THAT different -- just more streamlined. And of course, you can introduce a few pauses and interruptions etc. here and there to make it feel more natural. Otherwise, the idea that it's nothing like real conversation is pretty far fetched to me...
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I rather like these words from writer Sol Stein on this topic:

"Dialogue is a lean language in which every word counts. Counts for what? To characterize, move the story along, to have an impact on the reader's emotions."
 

ironpony

Senior Member
I struggle from this problem as well as I am told my dialogue is too on the nose, but when writing a crime thriller that deals in the legal world, police and lawyers have to talk to each other like that for legal purporses, and they cannot have people make mistakes if they try to read between the lines, so I guess one shouldn't try to write it realistically then, but try to find some sort of middle ground?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Yeah, I've paid a lot of attention to it -- of course there are pauses, verbal ticks and backtracking in actual conversation, but I don't think dialog is all THAT different -- just more streamlined. And of course, you can introduce a few pauses and interruptions etc. here and there to make it feel more natural. Otherwise, the idea that it's nothing like real conversation is pretty far fetched to me...

And emphasis on particular words, and falling and rising pitch , and, and. There is a huge amount of information involved in spoken speech beyond the actual words. Have a quick Google of 'Conversation analysis', there are conventions of symbols to notate it. It is something completely different from dialogue. There will be references to shared experience and that sort of stuff as well, the shorthand systems that people use. You can't do all that and explain it, it would be a huge sidetrack. Do you fill your dialogue with cliché? Conversational English is riddled with it, and people do get side tracked, and sometimes they realise and just stop at a dead end and it picks up completely irrationally. Do you use run on commas? That is often how people talk, they don't construct explicit, grammatical sentences.

Dialogue really is a different thing, very handy for advancing plot, a sort of second person telling, good for establishing character, but not conversation.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
And emphasis on particular words, and falling and rising pitch , and, and. There is a huge amount of information involved in spoken speech beyond the actual words. Have a quick Google of 'Conversation analysis', there are conventions of symbols to notate it. It is something completely different from dialogue. There will be references to shared experience and that sort of stuff as well, the shorthand systems that people use. You can't do all that and explain it, it would be a huge sidetrack. Do you fill your dialogue with cliché? Conversational English is riddled with it, and people do get side tracked, and sometimes they realise and just stop at a dead end and it picks up completely irrationally. Do you use run on commas? That is often how people talk, they don't construct explicit, grammatical sentences.

Dialogue really is a different thing, very handy for advancing plot, a sort of second person telling, good for establishing character, but not conversation.

Hmm, whatever. I’ve been told I write decent dialogue. Maybe because I don’t overthink it — and it seems kind of natural to me when I read it back.

So does all that information make any difference when you’re trying to write believable dialogue? I kind of doubt it.
 
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TheManx

Senior Member
Or here's a radical idea -- pull a few books off the shelf, and read the dialog. See what works for you and what doesn't and take it from there. It's not like you're the first person to ever do it...
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Having read some of your stuff, yes, you do write pretty good dialogue, and that it seems natural is one of the things that helps that, and it is natural for written dialogue, but that is not the same as an oral conversation. Actually I would say that most written communication is different from oral, it is almost like two different languages, just as the language we use to speak to different people varies, but more so, and more so still when we represent the spoken word.

Think how you speak to your partner, doctor, child, or boss, they will all be quite different, and all seem quite natural.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
Having read some of your stuff, yes, you do write pretty good dialogue, and that it seems natural is one of the things that helps that, and it is natural for written dialogue, but that is not the same as an oral conversation. Actually I would say that most written communication is different from oral, it is almost like two different languages, just as the language we use to speak to different people varies, but more so, and more so still when we represent the spoken word.

Think how you speak to your partner, doctor, child, or boss, they will all be quite different, and all seem quite natural.

And maybe the reason I write “pretty good dialog” is because I don’t gunk up the process by worrying about how different or similar it is to spoken conversation. Some knowledge or analysis of the difference might be interesting, but when it comes to writing it’s irrelevant. Again, any of us can pick a book we like and see how it’s done...
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
It's kind of like when we remove the normal actions of life, like taking a dump. Taking a dump is real life, but rarely does a writer put those actions in the story.

Exactly. In action movies, people could run, climbing, shooting, stunting from morning to morning again. No rehydration, no meals, no piss, no dumping, still looking fresh after 24 hours and then next thing we most likely will see is them casually drinking whiskey.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I struggle from this problem as well as I am told my dialogue is too on the nose, but when writing a crime thriller that deals in the legal world, police and lawyers have to talk to each other like that for legal purporses, and they cannot have people make mistakes if they try to read between the lines, so I guess one shouldn't try to write it realistically then, but try to find some sort of middle ground?
On the nose means that the dialogue seems to have no subcontext for which to give clues to the audience who hears it or the reader that sees it. I assume it's easy to solve. I have see people on the internet try to give suggestions to correct this problem. You must hide what you mean in each line. Not give the answer to what is happening in the script.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
A few weeks ago I read an article on just this, and I'm not sure I could easily find it again to link it. However, it agreed with most of the comments here: that written dialogue's purpose is to advance the story, not simulate conversation.

Let's take it beyond that. As writers, I think we'd all like to write some memorable passages. There are lines of dialogue in movies and books that I remember with some pleasure, and some I quote. I very seldom quote a line from a real life conversation in that manner.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
And maybe the reason I write “pretty good dialog” is because I don’t gunk up the process by worrying about how different or similar it is to spoken conversation. Some knowledge or analysis of the difference might be interesting, but when it comes to writing it’s irrelevant. Again, any of us can pick a book we like and see how it’s done...

I don't think we are really disagreeing here. The OP said he/she had trouble making dialogue believable and tried to represent it like speech to improve it. Better to pick up a book and look at a written example because that is 'believable', but it is nothing like the spoken word.
 
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