Friday, June 17, 2011

Wrestling With Dialogue

I don’t know who said this, but I dislike them anyway. They make it sound like if you aren’t a dialoguing natural then you’re doomed, but it isn’t that way at all.

I’m not exactly a world class conversationalist, so it isn’t surprising that I suck at dialog. Then again apparently, I’m not a lone. I was surprised to learn that a lot of people struggle with dialogue. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

One of the problems for me is that there is a lot of advise floating around out there about writing good dialogue. I’m in desperate need of that advise, but sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s just blowing steam and who can actually help. Take this quote for example…

"The best way to send information is to wrap it up in a person."
- Robert Oppenheimer

It sounds like solid writing advise, and the name sounds somewhat familiar, so my first instinct was that his opinions must be relevant. Wrong. It turns out Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Manhattan Project during World War II. He helped create the atomic bomb not the great American novel. So chances are he isn’t going to be able to help me.

Then there are the articles that are helpful just not in the right way. They’re written by published authors. They have bullet points. Everything points at them offering you good information, so you start reading. It isn’t until you get half way through the incredibly long article that you realize that while the tips are helpful in making the dialogue count they just don’t actually help you write the dialog in the first place.

Finally there are the article that look helpful but really aren’t. They have bullet points too. They’re at the top of the Google list, and they’re peer based. What could be better? A lot depending on the peers. Just because someone claims to know how to write good doesn’t mean that they can actually help you write good dialog. It’s one of those cases where the phrase “those who can do and those who can’t teach” really comes back to bite the reader. Someone who’s clueless isn’t always the best teacher.

“You can't worry about what your mother will think of your fiction.”

-Terence M. Green's

Some of the best advise I’ve found on writing dialog hasn’t come from Googling “how to write good dialogue in a story.” It’s come from Googling authors who’ve written Newberry Medal Winners, Caldicot Award Winners, and Hugo Award Winners. Now those guys know how to write amazing dialogue, and in a lot of cases they’re willing to give some helpful hints those of us who struggle with dialogue (or any number of other writing corner stones).

The most helpful article by far I’ve found was written by Robert J. Sawyer. He didn’t just talk about what should come before and after dialogue or the importance of making it short. He went into detail about how people talk and how to take the canned stuff our minds create and turn it into something a real person would say. He ever covered using swear words in, which gives him major brownie points in my book.

Anyway, happy hunting, and if you find any good tips out there please pass them back my way.


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