Dialogue seems to be one of the hardest parts of writing to get right. It doesn't seem like it would be too hard. I mean, everyone listens to people talking all the time. But I guess looking at people's faces every day doesn't make you a portrait artist, either.

It seems to me that you have to strike a delicate balance between what people actually sound like when they're talking and what your characters can say that's interesting or funny enough not to bore your audience to tears.

Chekov, for example, is too heavy on the former. Lots of long pauses and awkward moments which, yes, mimic real human conversations faithfully, but also put people to sleep. On the other end of the spectrum are most modern movie scripts, where everyone speaks in catch-phrases and stupid puns. Most fiction falls somewhere in between.

A good author can pen a conversation between characters that not only conveys plot development and needed information, but does it in an interesting way, while also managing to sound like natural speech.

First, we chatted about this new book that I bought, then we ordered lunch. The lunch was fine; our conversation was terse and melodramatic.

After a significant pause, I drop my spoon and begin by sounding unhappily abashed: "Listen, I happen to think it's a great work. Not just good, oh no. But great. Listen, it's not elegant. I'm no Yeats. I can't fill a paragraph with flowery phrases and butcherblock hills. It's not in me.

"Yeah."

"Yeah, well, let me break it down for you. We've got two people discussing lunch possibilities and writing. It's not exciting, sure, but it's got merit. You've got to give it that.

"Maybe," Joy says seriously, "But it's like this. It finishes very quickly--"

"It's a short story."

"Be that as it may. You've managed to end it quickly, the characters are blandly unfunny--we only really know their names and that they're eating--and you use too many adverbs. Didn't I tell you about that?"

Now, admittedly, I have become unsure of myself, of my work. I take a moment to slowly and deliberately examine a large potted plant. It sits just off to the left of the cash register. How weird is that.

"Fine," I say mildly. "You're the published one of us, you tell me. You tell me what's what. Go ahead."

Joy stares at me for a minute, and a quiet, creeping smile crosses her pretty face. A smile of cheery commiseration, a smile that says It's okay, good buddy, I'm here for ya. Buck up! Her voice is strong, though, and it commands attention. "Listen to me very closely. You are not a bad writer. The gift's in you, certainly, but you're trying too hard. Things like 'remorseless walls,' or even 'pasty happiness' don't exist. Why include it? I suggest you strip your writing down, my friend, and the rest will fall into place."

Wow, I'm thinking. That's a really nice plant.

Then I said to her, "Well, what if I change the tense of the story, give it a unique feel. Do you think that will, you know, make it sound different? Improve if somehow? And if I get rid of some of the adverbs?" By this point, she was clearly in deep thought, toying with her spaghetti and meatballs with extremely new silverware, her eyes somewhere else. I started to tap my foot impatiently. Ah, distinctly I remember the look on her face, one of extreme concentration. A person can tell when they see this look that she is intelligent, startlingly so, and that whatever she says next will make sense.

What she says next is no exception. "I wouldn't bother with switching the verb tenses. After all, it's just a short story. There is no time for extensive revision of the verbiage in the story. It'd probably make it sound muddled. At least, that's my opinion. Seriously, I'm just hating those adverbs, Dean."

So, my writing's not bad? That's a relief, and I say so, but hold back as much of my delight as I can, attempting (futilely, perhaps) to sound professional. Like I'd told her a minute ago, she's published. I'm not.

Maintaining zero elation is difficult, but I say, "So, It's as simple as that. Lose the adverbs."

"I think so."

"Strip down the writing."

"Yeah." "Stick to the dialogue, strip the rest." "Sure. That too."

"And then what?"

She grins.

"Publish it."

Di"a*logue (?; 115), n. [OE. dialogue, L. dialogus, fr. Gr. , fr. to converse, through + to speak: cf. F. dialogue. See Legend.]

1.

A conversation between two or more persons; particularly, a formal conservation in theatrical performances or in scholastic exercises.

2.

A written composition in which two or more persons are represented as conversing or reasoning on some topic; as, the Dialogues of Plato.

 

© Webster 1913.


Di"a*logue, v. i. [Cf. F. dialoguer.]

To take part in a dialogue; to dialogize.

[R.]

Shak.

 

© Webster 1913.


Di"a*logue, v. t.

To express as in dialogue.

[R.]

And dialogued for him what he would say. Shak.

 

© Webster 1913.

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