Sunday, September 26, 2010
What makes dialogue "feel" realistic? This isn't a rhetorical question--I'm actually interested in hearing, and then reposting, your responses. Please post examples, reference writers, or quote passages you feel might be relevant.
The interesting thing about dialogue that feels real is that, interestingly, it's actually NOT perfectly realistic. For example, in real life, you might be on the phone with your friend telling a story about your night while simultaneously surfing the internet, and a direct transcription of your end of the conversation would look like this:
"Yeah, and so then he was like, getting all crazy or whatever, and I was, like, wtf? You know? It's like...he has such a problem... [pause] What? Oh, no, sorry. No, I'm not typing. No, anyway, what was I saying? Oh! So he was, like, you know that's over, say it's over, and I was like, what are you talking about? I don't know. And then Jon came over and we kind of just, like, dropped it, so I have no idea."
While that may be "real" dialogue, it actually reads as both stylized and incredibly annoying. In fact, it's the opposite of good writing: it uses lots of words without actually saying anything meaningful.
On the other hand, we all know the dreaded "Dawson's Creek" phenomena: I hate it when I read a manuscript (or open a book) and find a 16-year-old girl, described as an average student, shy, maybe with not much of a romantic history, who speaks like this when in a confrontation with, say, her stepmother:
"I'm tired of the fact that you and dad have a perfect domestic life, while I feel totally excluded. It's as though he has completed forgotten about my real mother, and you're pretending she never existed!"
That's a lot of clarity for a 16-year-old, and more transparency of thought/communication than most adults ever express.
Then again, if a 16-year-old were to say to her best friend in a novel: "I hate how dad and Kerri just pretend like we're some family in, like, an LL Bean commercial, you know? He doesn't even talk about her anymore--my mom, I mean. Like she never even existed."
I'd buy that.
Again, though, it's far easier to point out what makes BAD dialogue than to identify what makes GOOD dialogue. Some more pet peeves:
"Cliche" dialogue: "Oh my god," Becky, the head cheerleader, chirped, "Did you, like, see what she was wearing? Lo-ser."
In teen books, too many "teenisms": "OMG WTF! I cannot BUH-LIEVE Andrew didn't retweet you!"
In children's books, children who talk like what conservative grown-ups in the fifties wished their children had spoken like: "Oh, wow, Tommy!" Sarah said, as Tommy showed her the treehouse. "That's super neat!"
I'd like to spend time this week on the blog, focusing on dialogue. So please, tell me: what kind of dialogue do you respond to? And what kind of habits/tendencies do you see in written dialogue that drives you bananas?