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Drasiana

Writing Dialogue

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Drasiana

sorry if this is in the wrong forum or something, people wanted me to post it so here it is

Hey so to coincide with this whole "give better critique" movement I'm gonna come out and say that dialogue is one of the biggest factors, be it in regular writing or roleplay-land. Making your characters sound unique while allowing them dialogue that contributes to the story and their own characterization can be a tricky skill to master, but I have a few tips here that should help, if you heed them as you write.

SUBTEXT

Write around what you’re trying to say. If you are asking a character if they believe in love at first sight, get that idea across without saying the words “loveâ€, “firstâ€, or “sightâ€. It’s tricky, but not impossible, and when you’ve done it right you’ve made yourself some damn fine writing. Being too on-the-nose is bland to read; when characters say exactly what they think, it takes the tension out of their conversations...and with it, we lose our engagement in what they have to say.

DIRECT, INDIRECT, AND NON-ANSWERS

Be aware of direct, indirect and non-answers and when to utilize them. Direct answers are basically “yes or noâ€, blunt, etc. Indirect is basically a “maybeâ€. And a non-answer is to answer a question like “so what’s your favourite colour?†with “I heard dinosaurs had feathersâ€. There’s a time and place for all of them, and use your judgement to figure out when. Using direct answers too often would get boring and using non-answers too often would get frustrating. Shuffle it up and consider all your options when it comes time for a character to answer.

READ EVERYTHING YOU SAY OUT LOUD

Seriously. I know it might seem goofy but you'd be surprised how things can change from the page to the spoken word. If it doesn't roll off your tongue then you probably need to make some changes.

REVEALS AND PROGRESSION

What is the point of your dialogue? It should always be revealing something, either about character or the situation. Always add new information to the mix (though be careful not to border on the expository too often) otherwise it gets stagnant. Lots of authors like to say the characters "just write themselves!" but the audience doesn't want to read about the characters' mundane conversations if they don't lead anywhere. Use your characters and their interactions to push the scenes, and ultimately the story, forward. Don't hang on one reveal too long. Trim any "fat" dialogue that you don't absolutely need.

How do you know if you're doing it right? Read the dialogue from your scene backwards. If it reads almost the same front to back as it does back to front, you need more reveals and dramatic stakes.

Here's an example of these concepts:

ANGELA: Hey.

LISA: Hey.

ANGELA: How's it going?

LISA: Not bad, you?

ANGELA: Pretty good.

LISA: Cool.

ANGELA: Oh, wait! Ohmigod, did you hear about Tommy?

LISA: No! What happened?

ANGELA: Oh my god you won't even believe me.

LISA: Tell me!

ANGELA: Okay, like...

LISA: Yeah?

ANGELA: We were at the bar, right?

LISA: Which bar?

ANGELA: The Warehouse on 53rd! Anyway, so we were at the bar just chillin' and looking at photos from Barbara's phone from the camping trip. When Tommy gets like, this weird look.

LISA: Oh, that look!

ANGELA: Yeah! And then we look over, and it's totally CLARA!

LISA: Oh. Em. Gee! You mean his ex-fiance?

ANGELA: Yeah, his ex-fiance!

LISA: Ohmigod.

ANGELA: Yeah it was like, the most awkward thing ever!

Now try this:

ANGELA: Ohmigod, did you hear about Tommy?

LISA: No! What happened?

ANGELA: You won't even believe me. We were at the Warehouse on 53rd, right? Just hanging out, when Tommy gets this weird look. And then we look down the bar, and who's sitting there? CLARA!

LISA: Oh. Em. Gee! You mean his ex-fiance?

ANGELA: Uh, yeah!

LISA: Ohmigod.

ANGELA: SO awkward, right?

The latter one takes half as much time to say the same thing far more efficiently. Which interestingly enough brings us into:

LESS IS MORE

One of the most important notes. When trying to convey something to elicit an emotional reaction, you'd be surprised to find the subtler, simpler executions of this are the most effective. The best example I can currently think of is the Bakshi Lord of the Rings cartoon as compared to the Peter Jackson films. In Bakshi's, there's a scene where Sam and Frodo go on and on in long speeches on whether or not they'll succeed and return home. Meanwhile in Jackson's, it's summed up in a simple exchange between the two when Sam hands Frodo a peice of bread:

Sam: There should be enough.

Frodo: For what?

Sam: The journey home.

That says it all right there. Not only is this a prime example of "less is more", but also ties into the first thing we covered: SUBTEXT!

The same thing happened in The Fugitive; when Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) and US Marshal Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) have their iconic stand off over the dam, there was originally supposed to be far more dialogue. But then they realized that the character motivations and all they exposited could be summed up as such:

Kimble: I didn't kill my wife!

Gerard: I don't care!

Keeps the action going (Kimble jumping off the dam helped) instead of bogging us down with incessant, unnatural dialogue. Also, that tricky little subtext bastard.

RP STUFF

Blocking: This is something usually attributed with theatre improv, but since this is basically writing improv, it can apply as well. Try as hard as you can not to impede suggestions and nudges from other characters. That’s not to say “never say noâ€, as that may very well be important to the plot and your character, but be aware of story points and when not to stomp on them.

Characterization: I know it’s tempting to write from your own personality, but please keep in mind your character and how they fit in with the people around them. Using the personalities of the others to affect your character is desirable. Doing your own thing is all fine and dandy but you need to keep the interactions believable and interesting with the others. Do the opposite of what you would do, for a change; it might yield interesting results. As well, do not think of this in terms of who is “betterâ€, unless it’s in a subverted way where the character’s assumptions that they are is to be considered a negative personality trait (a good thing to have!).

Tense: Not quite dialogue, but just a consistency pointer. Please write in the same tense as your group members. For example, imagine a game is in active present tense:

“Fox walks towards the control panel. Ears pinned back in shame, he looks up at the monitor. “I swear, I didn’t order this porn!†he says, hoping the others believe him.â€

Now try to maintain the same tense throughout following posts. This applies to any other writing as well.

So...THERE! There's your big huge gigantic post about writing dialogue! And that's really the tip of the iceburg and I may add/change some stuff when I wake up tomorrow and look at what I have created, but I've found all of this incredibly useful in my writing and hopefully you can too! Peace, SFO!

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Gene Inari

*worships post*

Thanks for this Dras!

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kkstarfox

I think I could also add a few things on the subject of writing dialogue.

For me the biggest part of writing dialogue is diction. If you go out side and sit on a park bench and listen to all the people talk, you will soon find out that every one speaks different. Everyone has these subtle differences in the way they speak. It is the result of who they are and how they are raised. They might use different colloquialisms or their accent might be different. Utilize these quarks of speech in your dialogue. Dialogue could give the reader insight into the character a lot more then simple description can.

Case in point - First i will show totally acceptable standard run of the mill dialogue.

Bill begins walking down the park street. He looks and admires all the fine scenery around him. Stubbing his toe on a rock he kicks it off the path, watching it arc across the sky. Watching it he bites his tongue as he sees the rock land on a poor girl's head.

"Ouch," She cries.

"I am so sorry. I did not mean to hit you," Bill responds.

She says, "Well watch where you kick rocks next time."

Bill nods his head, "Yes Ma'am."

Pretty dry, no? So how do we change that? With diction!

"DAMMIT!" The lady cries, "Watch where the hell you kickin' those bloody rocks!"

"I'm soooo sorry miss. I didn't mean to hit ya' I was just tryin' to get the rock of the road" Bill apologizes.

She glares and rubs her head, "Off the road certainly but not on my damn head!"

See, isn't that dialogue a little more interesting? We can now see more depth of character from Bill and the lady in the park just by they way they talk and interact with one another. That is diction, the slight differences, word choice, and emotional implication of the way and how some one says something. Another thing i will point out is that you can make up accents by the way a character says a word. You can do this grammatically.

"Well here I is, walkin' down da' street mindin' mah own business, wen dis' lassie calm over hur' and tellin' me what ta' do!"

As far as i can tell that is the grammatically correct way to write accents. I say as far as I can tell because i do not write accents that way. An accent as a character trait thus the character is always speaking like that. So i would just choose to write it like this instead:

"Well here I is, walkin down da street mindin mah own dog gone business, wen dis lassie calm over hur and tellin me whatta do an how ta do it!"

No more of those annoying and distracting apostrophes. The only time i use that madness is when a character speaks out of character, meaning they do not talk like they normally do. Another amazing thing is the power of italic in dialogue. And not only dialogue between two characters but the dialogue between a character and his conscience. So back to Bill:

"Oooouch!" she cries.

Bill snickers, "I'm soooooo sorry."

"Hey please watch where throw rocks next time, they can hurt really bad!" She whimpers.

Again BIll and the lady in the park have become different people just because of they way they might say something or emphasizes just one single word. Now on to a character and his conscience. When a character is thinking or argueing with himself this inner dialogue can be represented with either italics or quotation marks i prefer italics. Case in point:

Starring absently into the sky, Fox McCloud longed to be back in the stars, in his arwing. Doing the world some good. He cursed the Dark Gods that had sent him to some godforsaken land to save some godforsaken dinosaurs without even a godforsaken blaster to defend himself with. What does General Pepper want from me? Remember you are here for the money! Get the job done get paid and go home!

Now if we were to take the same paragraph and structure the dialogue this way.

Starring absently into the sky, Fox McCloud longed to be back in the stars, in his arwing. Doing the world some good. He cursed the Dark Gods that had sent him to some godforsaken land to save some godforsaken dinosaurs without even a godforsaken blaster to defend himself with. "What does General Pepper want from me? Remember you are here for the money! Get the job done get paid and go home!"

He has gone from thinking to himself to thinking out loud. It just subtle twists and quarks of grammar, diction, and word choice that can change something good to something better. And a good writer will utilize all these tricks and the reader will say, "Damn that was good but I just can't put my finger on why it was sooooo good!" But the reader knows why, its because its all those subtle tools he uses!

Hope this helps!

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Drasiana

Wow I can't believe I forgot to include that but apparently it was destiny because you did it wonderfully.

Pay attention to this man, kidlets.

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Asper Sarnoff

Good topic Dras. Would you be interested in a merging of this topic with the: "How to not suck at writing in general."-sticky?

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Drasiana

Hmm. I don't mind, but it also seems like there could be benefit in having almost a catalogue of different writing tutorial topics, as a subforum or just additional stickies. It might just be because I'm like weirdly obsessive-compulsive about that kind of thing, but I also think it does benefit to distinguish specific topics and tutorials from one another so the meaning isn't lost in the muddle.

...if that made any sense xD;

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Xortberg

Yeah, I support keeping this as its own topic. My topic is a generalized tutorial, whereas this is far more specific. I think a lot more good will come of this if it stays separate.

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Asper Sarnoff

Hmm. I don't mind, but it also seems like there could be benefit in having almost a catalogue of different writing tutorial topics, as a subforum or just additional stickies. It might just be because I'm like weirdly obsessive-compulsive about that kind of thing, but I also think it does benefit to distinguish specific topics and tutorials from one another so the meaning isn't lost in the muddle.

...if that made any sense xD;

I've thought of a subforum with tutorials, tips and tricks related to writing might be a good idea, and it would be a lot more organised than stuffing everything into a single thread.

I'll take it up with DZ.

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kkstarfox

Might be a good idea to have a tutorial subforum. But, it needs to be said that these tutorials are simple helpful suggestions. There is technically no "correct" way to write well, other then grammatically correct. Anyways they are simple suggestion to help the growing author develop their style.

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Asper Sarnoff

Indeed they are kkstarfox, and perhaps the best advice of them all is that you should not strive to copy another authors writing style, but make up ones own.

As of now, if a tutorial seems good enough, we'll sticky it. If there in time comes up several of them, then we'll consider adding a subforum dedicated to them.

Oh, and *sticky*.

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