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Pet Peeve with dialogue

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John



Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 521
Location: Massachusetts
Pet Peeve with dialogue  Reply with quote  

I have a personal pet peeve with dialogue that I would like to share because I see it all the time. In fact I was guilty of it. I gave a short story of mine to a friend to read and was eagerly awaiting his awestruck praise at my writing brilliance. He read it, looked at me and said, "your dialogue sucks." I, of course, came to the conclusion that he obviously didn't know what he was talking about.

However after realizing that I probably do suck at writing I asked him what was wrong with the dialogue. He couldn't put his finger on it, only that it didn't feel real. We dissected some more and came to realize it was the use of character's names in the dialogue. It looked something like this;

Kathy met Steve down at the local Starbucks for coffee.
"Hi, Kathy." Steve said.
"Hi, Steve." Kathy replied. "Your looking good. Have you been working out, Steve?"
"Why yes. Thanks for noticing, Kathy" Steve said as he bounced his pecs a few times. "Say, Kathy? Do you mind if we make these mocha lattes a little "Irish?" Steve said as he pulled out a small pint of whisky.
"Great idea, Steve!
etc, etc, etc.

Nobody talks like this. I did an experiment for a few days where I actually counted the number of times I used someone's name in conversation and except for the first thing in the morning when I say hi, or if I am trying to get someones attention from across the room, or I am actually introducing someone I almost NEVER use a person's name in an actual conversation. The above conversation should look like this;

Kathy met Steve down at the local Starbucks for coffee.
"Hi," Steve said.
"Hey" Kathy replied. "Your looking good. Have you been working out?"
"Why yes. Thanks for noticing," Steve said as he bounced his pecs a few times. "Say? Do you mind if we make these mocha lattes a little "Irish?" He said as he pulled out a small pint of whisky.
"Great idea!
etc, etc, etc.

This one discovery had me going back through all of the previous stuff I had written and deleting character names out of all my dialogues and made them sound much more real.

Just my 2 cents. Any thoughts?
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Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 9:23 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
 Reply with quote  

Actually, insurance men or anyone who has ever gone through a Dale Carnegie class will use your name really often, but that's not normal.

Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:27 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
John



Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 521
Location: Massachusetts
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lol

That reminds me of an old Mike Myers snl skit where he tries to teach you to be a "very handsome man".

"Wow! Now there goes a very handsome man."
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Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:41 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address
earthshoes



Joined: 17 Jun 2004
Posts: 213
Location: SW Missouri
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i spent several months listening to the way that real people talk and learned several things from the experience.

1) I realized how often I don't hear the end of other people's sentences because I'm already thinking about what I'm going to say myself. I also give people unspoken cues to "hurry up". After i stopped this, (for the most part) I realized how much I missed answers to simple questions such as "How are you?" and often I am hurried when there is no need to be.

2) I love accents of all kinds. I also began to identify phrases common to different parts of the country. "Bless your heart . . . " for instance, is distinctly Southern and best appreciated while sipping heavily sugared iced tea and nibbling apple pie. However, I have not mastered how to produce accents on paper that sound genuine, though I know there are other writers that have. On the other hand, add a "bless your heart" (Southern) or "she was cuter than the wag on a hound pup's tail" (Ozarks/hillbilly/) and everyone knows where the character is from or at least believe me when I tell them.

3) It really helped me to read my own dialogue outloud to someone else--not so much for the critical feedback as for the fact that I was suddenly very conscious of how each word sounded. My dialogue improved dramatically after I started this. I may struggle with plot line snaffoos and write myself into corners regularly, but since I can "hear" my characters conversations now, I write much better dialogue.
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Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:58 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail AIM Address Yahoo Messenger
Tal



Joined: 21 May 2004
Posts: 1692
Location: Not Massachusetts
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I'll have to post some of my dialogue sometime. I always feel it's entirely too stilted and wooden.
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Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:41 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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earthshoes wrote:
2) I love accents of all kinds. I also began to identify phrases common to different parts of the country. "Bless your heart . . . " for instance, is distinctly Southern and best appreciated while sipping heavily sugared iced tea and nibbling apple pie. However, I have not mastered how to produce accents on paper that sound genuine, though I know there are other writers that have. On the other hand, add a "bless your heart" (Southern) or "she was cuter than the wag on a hound pup's tail" (Ozarks/hillbilly/) and everyone knows where the character is from or at least believe me when I tell them.



This is a great point. It's better to convey dialect with word choice and word order than phonetic spellings and contractions. Obviously, I've written a lot of dialogue in dialect, and I've done both, but almost without fail, I have to go back through the manuscript and pull back on the dialect -- taking out phonetic spellings and contractions. A little dialect goes a long way.

Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 12:03 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Lynn



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2295
Location: SF
 Reply with quote  

Another thing about phonetically spelled dialect is that it can be kind of offensive to the group you're trying to emulate. It kind of automatically indicates that you think that the way that person speaks is wrong. I point this out because I have friends from the deep south, and they get really pissed sometimes at things like that.
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Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 2:54 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Goudron



Joined: 03 Aug 2004
Posts: 2570
Location: near Cleveland OH
 Reply with quote  

chris wrote:
A little dialect goes a long way.


If you use too much, it makes it a slow read since you need to sound out the words in your head and sometimes you don't sound them out as intended.

Lynn, do you suppose we ought to worry about offending people with what we write? I like to think of myself as a pretty friendly person, but sometimes the best ideas come from deep inside, and sometimes that ain't pretty.
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Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 3:13 pm   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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"[/b]Another thing about phonetically spelled dialect is that it can be kind of offensive to the group you're trying to emulate. It kind of automatically indicates that you think that the way that person speaks is wrong. I point this out because I have friends from the deep south, and they get really pissed sometimes at things like that[size=18][b]."[/size]

If they don't talk that way, they have nothing to worry about. If they do, fuck'em, that's how they sound. I'm not for a lot of phonetic spellings because I think it slows the reading and gets in the way of communication, but the last reason you should cut it is because it might offend someone.


[Man, I hate the way this board quotes. I wish it would just quote the part you highlight.]


Last edited by chris on Thu Aug 05, 2004 5:14 pm; edited 1 time in total

Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 3:45 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Ferrit Leggings



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2658
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The last person, in my humble opinion, that did phonetically spelt dialogue well was Mark Twain with Huckleberry Finn. I am currently writing a book about a man that has come over from England with his child and I thought of using spellings in speech that would exemplify the characterís British-ness but I, in the end, stayed away from it. I didnít use it for the reason that it would piss off Brits but because it was a pain in the arse to write and there were so many other ways for me to get the point across, example: arse. It does work with characters like Kona in Fluke because it is funny and it helped get the point of the character.

What I did to understand a British character was to talk to British people, which was not very difficult, researched the country and some slang but also to read a lot of novels and writing from England from adult to preschool. Teaching preschool allowed me to read childrenís books without feeling like a complete pillock, example. Oddly this helped because many of the language differences are very evident in children's books. Compare Harry Potter US with Harry Potter UK. There are differences. Duddley's first word is not "No" in the UK edition but "Shan't".

Ta.

Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 4:28 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Lauren



Joined: 07 Mar 2004
Posts: 1582
Location: Massachusetts
 Reply with quote  

<tangent>On quoting - it's not the best way around it, but I copy the text I want to quote, then hit the quote button up at the top, type "From X" and then paste, then hit the quote button again. A little bulky, but it beats quoting the whole message or having to delete your way through a long message. </tangent>

John, I can pretty much pinpoint where I walked away from the keyboard by looking for people using each other's name in dialogue. It's something I have to go back and find and cut, but if I'm having trouble working out a conversation, it tends to creep in. Moreso in tense moments for the characters than anywhere else. It drives me crazy.

I feel like accents and speech patterns depend on how the author writes them into the story. I've seen authors who will type the sentence and then phonetically reproduce it right after. Once or twice to point out an accent, sure, no problem. Stephen King did this very well in the latest Dark Tower book to describe the Maine accent. The key is that he did it sparingly, usually only repeating the accented words, and not doing it every time that character spoke. If it had followed every single piece of dialogue, the story would have bogged down.

It should go without saying that Kona kicked ass. I think I picked up his accent for a little while when reading Fluke. Smile

JK Rowling created a bit of a monster with one of her characters - Fleur Delacour is French, and Rowling wrote out a bit of her accent. That was fine, in the confines of her works (although I admit it borders on overdone). But if you're up for a headache, go find some Harry Potter fan fiction where young girls are writing French characters. Every damn sentence is phonetic. Eet ees tres annoying. (disclaimer: I don't read fan fiction, as a rule, but I stumbled across a livejournal community dedicated to finding bad fanfic a while back, and their comments are snarky but hilarious.)
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Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 5:55 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address ICQ Number
earthshoes



Joined: 17 Jun 2004
Posts: 213
Location: SW Missouri
 Reply with quote  

Lauren wrote:


It should go without saying that Kona kicked ass. I think I picked up his accent for a little while when reading Fluke. Smile


I read a fair amount of Fluke out loud to my haoli husband who grew up in Hawaii. I made him read Kona outloud to me because I simply couldn't do the accent justice. He has a real gift for mimic anyway, but the result was hysterical.


That is the danger of using accents. It is difficult to take the story or the character seriously after the accent is introduced.
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Post Thu Aug 05, 2004 6:07 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail AIM Address Yahoo Messenger
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