Friday, March 19, 2010

The Thin Line Between Realistic and Too Realistic Dialogue

Today I had a typical conversation with one of my friends at work. It went something like this:

Trish bursts into my office. “Are you okay with lunch at The Orient?”
“What?” I said, because I genuinely didn’t hear her since I was listening to an audio book.
“The Orient.”
“The Orient?”
“Why do you keep saying The Orient to me?”
She laughs. “Are you good with lunch from The Orient?”
“Do I have to go get it for everyone?” (I’m the designated lunch getter since I don’t see patients.)
“Then I don’t care where we eat.”

So this is a prime example of how real people converse…sometimes-lol. Although I’ve never understood why people simply repeat the last word when they’ve asked a question and someone didn’t hear them. Still, we wouldn’t want to write anything like the above interaction, nor would we want to read it.

Some people have very distinct and sometimes horrifying ways of speaking, or slaughtering the English language. Even as one side of me squirms when I hear someone ask, “Where you been at?” there’s another part of me that thinks of a character who might speak like that. I think there’s a fine line between making dialogue real and making it too real.

If someone speaks broken English, it would be hard to write—and read—a whole page of dialogue with figgerin’ and nuffin’ and dunno’s all throughout it.

So here’s a bit of dialogue from one of my current works, DWELLERS, tell me what you think. And feel free to put some of your dialogue in the comments where you may have a character speaking in broken language or has an unusual way of speaking. I’d love to read it!

This is a conversation involving Britta (the heroine), Gareth (the hero), and Keo (the leader of the strangers they’ve just met). Keo has a bit of a lazy drawl and a southern twang. I wanted to make his way of speaking a bit different and hopefully it shows.

“So the government still exists?” I ask.

“Course.” Keo pinches the area between his brows. I know my questions are inane to him, but there’s a lot I don’t know.

He continues. “Renegade soldiers been herdin’ Dwellers south, anywhere below Virginia. They plan to blow this place off the map in ‘bout four weeks, last I heard. So that means we got a week, but I’m outta here in three days tops.”

Gareth looks at Keo like he can’t understand the language Keo is speaking. “How the hell do you herd Dwellers?”

Keo barks out a laugh. “Trust me, you don’t wanna be face to face with a Renegade soldier. They ain’t nothing nice, and I might add, they the only ones allowed to drive, other than a few licensed poachers. Anything that’s not in a Renegade uniform is an enemy and they don’t ask questions—capture or kill. Believe me, you don’t wanna be captured.”

“They’ll kill even humans?” I ask.

“I repeat, capture or kill. Best thing to do when a Renegade is near…run, hide, pray.”
I’m not sure I want to know, but I ask anyway. “What do they do with captures?”

“Experiments. Stuff like they did with the Dwellers.”
I really like writing dialogue, but it’s one of the things that intimidate me too. Not as much as writing scenerymakes me squirm, but with dialogue, I want to make sure I capture the flow and the natural breaks without making it too chunky, or having it be too wordy. So now, I pay attention to how I speak and sometimes I’ll play over conversations I’ve had in my head and ask, “Would that look right on a page?” Most times the answer is, no.


MeganRebekah said...

Wow. I love this post!
I too experiment with dialogue, and its often the thing that comes first in a scene for me.
You've got a great handle on it-keep it up!

Angie said...

I loved your dialog. I'm totally interested in your story. I thought you did a great job capturing Keo's voice. It's a funny thing with fiction. It has to seem realistic, but it's definitely not like real conversations. Not always anyway. I think it helps to read dialog aloud though.

Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like a great story! Can't wait till you get it published :)

I love writing dialogue as well. It's a great way to show who your characters are without telling!

Talli Roland said...

Great stuff! I think you've got the art of dialogue down pat. Really enjoyed reading it.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love writing dialogue, but I agree with you. It can be intimidating getting it right. Plus you have to be careful that you don't over analyze it so it no longer sounds natural.

Great post!

Mizzez Melly Mel said...

I too become intimidated with writing dialogue. One of my current characters is in no way a dumb bunny but he uses slang when he speaks. Let me tell you, that sometimes can be very difficult trying to keep in his voice...especially when I don't actually speak that way myself.

Your dialogue sounds great to me and your storyline seems interesting. Thanks for the posting!

Shelley Sly said...

You are right on with the dialogue! You make a great point about realistic vs. too realistic, and your own snippet of dialogue is very believable! :)

Y.F.N. Palindrome aka Hannah said...

I like straight dialogue like that. It helps keep the story on pace without being distracted with descriptions.

I have trouble with dialogue. I'm a description person. I'm trying to practice though and improve my confidence in dialogue writing.

Great post!