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June 24th, 2007, 03:24 PM
Having recently seen movies like Syriana and The Good Shepherd I've been particularly fired up about writing genuine, realistic dialogue. Whenever I try to mimic those movies' dialogue (Ocean's 11, 12, and 13, too), it seems like the characters' speech is just too cool to be true. Does anyone have any suggestions or book recommendations for how to write good dialogue?

June 24th, 2007, 03:39 PM
www.hollylisle.com has a pretty good workshop for dialogue that you can do over and over again. I've found that you have to really focus on rhythms...think of where the natural pausing points in a conversation are and insert something to signify that, like dots or ums, or ahs. You don't have to keep those in there, but it does help in creating a believable rhythm of speech. No one talks like they do in Oceans 11, but that highly stylized form of speech can be put to effective use if you work on it. Remember that you should be writing with style anyway, trying to make your work ring true. Listen to the way real people talk all around you, and try to duplicate that, rather than going straight for the ultra-stylized dialogue of Soderbergh or Tarantino. Then combine the reality with the style, and you have some pretty good stuff.
I hope this wasn't as rambling and confusing as I think it was.

James Carmack
June 24th, 2007, 08:09 PM
Another bit of advice: Open up your ears and listen to how people talk. No better source of natural dialog than the real thing, right?

Of course, I don't recommend writing "natural" dialog (i.e. an accurate representation of real human conversation) as it'd be largely unreadable. Instead, I advocate "naturalistic" dialog (i.e. dialog that a human could actually say but crafted in such a way that it reads cleanly).

A good way to test your dialog is to say it aloud. If it's got your tongue in a twist, you've still got a ways to go.

June 25th, 2007, 04:35 AM
I present to you - drumroll - Conversation Analysis (http://www-staff.lboro.ac.uk/~ssca1/sitemenu.htm). Skim this and see what there's to pay attention to:

- When do people raise their voices?
- When do they make slips (mis-speak...)?
- When do they speed up/slow down their speech?
- How long are the pauses?
- How often do they speak simultaneously?
- How often do they interrupt each other?
- Do they repeat the same word three times in a row?
- Does their pitch rise/fall in unexpected places?

After you've read a few CA-transcripts you'll never want to write like people speak ever again (or if you do, that's going to be a *very* interesting book.)

For a bit of fun you can make a transcript of movie-dialogue and compare it to the real stuff. What did they leave out? Actually, that would be an interesting study... I do suspect, though, that Syriana's dialogue would be closer to the real thing than Ocean X's (where X is any number > 10 but < 14).

June 25th, 2007, 04:52 AM
Personally I try to put my characters in a situation where they are doing something as well as talking, eating a meal, taking a drink, a walk or just putting body and face movements into the tag lines.

I try and get the information I want to convey both to the reader and from one character to another in a natural way, not a list of this happened, or we will do this, sometimes I have them refer to a normal think, say asking their fellow character how the meal was etc, or merging everyday things into the conversation. I also try and convey emotion, tone, and character in the words rather than in the tag lines, unless the character is shouting/bellowing hissing or babbling ;)

I am at the moment writing an important dialogue scene where my main character is obtaining some information from a friend. I am writing out the main conversation, then I will go through, trim, and add, widen the discriptive sections between the conversation. But first of all I get down what I want my chracters to say. Quite often while I am doing this I am actually mouthing the words, having a conversation with myself to help me get the speech patterns of the characters as well as the rise and fall of the dialogue.

June 25th, 2007, 07:40 AM
The best advice I've been given on dialogue is that there is no such thing as 'natural', when you watch movies like the ones you mentioned the dialogue is contrived to generate just such an impression. Same with TV, Books, Comics etc. It's what a writer believes dialogue should be in their world and that is all that should be relevant to you. As long as the dialogue 'reads' well it's irrelevant whether it sounds right reading it out loud. To me dialogue relates directly to charactisation, as an example - is the character intelligent? No. Then they aren't going to be using long words or speaking with correct grammar. This way you can mould realistic dialogue for the character without necessarily having to stick to 'natural' dialogue.

June 25th, 2007, 10:06 AM
Eeeeee crap this boomed more than I thought it would. Thankee for all the responses. I've read Holly Lisle's website stuff a lot, but I never :confused: even noticed the dialogue.

Thank you all soooo much!!!!

*smashes head on fire hydrant and gets to work*

June 26th, 2007, 07:21 PM
Is genuine, realistic dialogue the same as entertaining, meaningful, or compelling dialogue? If not, what does it add or subtract to such dialogue?

To what extent can one write in a dialogue realistic 'style'?

How does introducing a realistic style of dialogue affect the reader's experience?

To what extent do the writers here strive for realism in their dialogue?

My own thoughts:

I don't think that realistic dialogue should refer to a style concerned with real-world speech, but real-world *perception* of speech. Real world speech is a meandering stream, based on shared experience and non-verbal communication. It's sloppy, and mostly un-directed.

I don't think filling your dialogue with 'eh' and 'ah' and '...' and interruptions will help you end up with realistic dialogue, because the brain processes speech differently than it does writing. Dialogue is much like description; I can see a great number of objects on my desk right now, but if I were to describe my desk as "a brown, wooden desk on which there was a computer, phonebook, empty glass, two boxes of pens, speakers, a lamp, a cat bed, a pink pad of paper, a hair scrunchy, a white spiral bound notebook, a copy of Illustrator for Dummies, a white piece of paper with three colored squares on it, a copy of The World of Darkness, a business card for QuestDrape, a business card for Custom House Loans, a power bill, a yellow highlighter, a thee hole punch, a lamp, a set of headphones, a scrap of white paper, a clipboard, a copy of the Taste of Night…" and so on, in most cases, I'd be doing a poor job of conveying my desk to the reader.

The object would seem to be to give the reader a vivid image of my desk, one that relies on essential details. I wonder to what extent this idea can encompass the dialogue I write.

June 26th, 2007, 07:56 PM
I've struggled with writing good dialogue. It's harder than it seems. Some otherwise good writers will write stilted, stiff, boring dialogue, while others (like Quentin Tarantino) write too-cool-to-be-believed dialogue.

One suggestion that helped me a lot was paying attention to subtext. That is, what the character is NOT saying.

Here's a writing exercise that a friend shared with me. I hope I'm remembering it correctly.
Write a scene where two close characters--like a mother & son, husband & wife, or brother & sister, etc.--have something to tell each other. One character is trying to figure out how to break important news--got fired from work, father just died, school burned down--while the other character has news that s/he is reluctant to share--found out she's pregnant, got accepted to an elite school, joined a society of magicans, what have you. Write them trying to have a normal conversation.

Anyway, I've found that's really fun to write dialogue where one character has a secret or knows something important, that will make the other character's eyes bug out when they finally learn what it is.