Thursday, April 8, 2010


Well, that weird analogy from the other day about bad dialogue got me thinking.

I'd say I'm at least semi-decent at dialogue. At the very least, I can recognize the really, really bad stuff (I think) and I know that mine isn't quite that bad. But I could be wrong, which would frankly suck.

Anyway. I thought I'd share a few thoughts on what, to me, can drag dialogue down.

1. The classic "As You Know, Bob" line. Most of the time, these lines seem to really jump out, but sometimes they're very subtle. (I totally had an example of a subtle line until just now... I hate when that happens!)

Non-subtle: "Hello, Bob. It is I, your brother, who has been missing for over five thousand years."

Subtle...ish: ... ... I still got nothing. Maybe these lines aren't subtle. But I swear I had an example for this one...

2. Lack of contractions. Of course, this mostly applies to native speakers of a language, as you wouldn't expect a language student to necessarily contract things. But someone who grew up in, say, the US (because that's the only sort of English I know, heh) probably wouldn't say:

"I will go there now. Do not follow me. I cannot protect you."

(Okay, to be fair, I doubt anyone would say the above like that, but... ahem. Moving on.)

3. Talking like a textbook.

I'm on the staff of my school's literary magazine, and we've got this twenty-page story in there (these are regular sized pages, twelve-point font--it's a freaking novella). Overall, it's a great story, with a pretty unique take on the whole "zombie pandemic" theme. But... the dialogue is not that great.

Why? Because the people talk like they're narrating.

It's hard to describe. I think the biggest thing that struck me was that a lot of the characters use parallelism. Not that I'm dissing parallelism. Actually, I think it really bolsters writing. But I, for one, don't hear people on the street using it. (Maybe that's because I'm in high school, where the average IQ is roughly that of swamp gas, but... we'll look over that for now.)

Of course, if it weren't dialogue, it would be amazing writing. Try this: think of your favorite passage of narration. Or just any passage of narration you think is well-written. Can you imagine a person saying that passage in a casual conversation? (Ignoring, of course, the topic of said passage.) It would probably sound off. (Well, maybe not if it's in first person, but even so...)

4. ... ... ...nah, that's it.

Soo.... yeah. Dialogue. It's really hard. (Actually, writing this, I'm starting to worry maybe all my dialogue *does* sound awful...) But I don't think a bad dialogue writer can't improve. There's always room for improvement.

At the least, I hope I've given you something to think about. If not, I obviously haven't done my job. ('Cause I ALWAYS do *that*...)

Emphasizing words is fun...


  1. Dialogue can be tricky. If you don't mind running the risk of your friends and family thinking you're a little loopy then reading it aloud as you write it (preferably in front of a mirror) helps.

    If it doesn't have the right tone or word choice when you hear it, then you know something's off.

  2. Oh, of course! The reading aloud part. That's a really useful tool. Thanks for pointing that out. ^.^

    I think many writers find that their family and friends already think they're loopy, so that risk isn't much of a problem. Just one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, ne? ^.^

  3. Thanks for the tips. When I write fiction I am still such a "blind" beginner. English is my second language, not that I feel it has been a problem, nor can I use it as an excuse. Well, I do sometimes :-).