Obstacle #15: Dialogue

It’s Friday! You know what that means… The weekend has come! Along with my blog post.

Today’s topic: dialogue, and possible-pointers-with-no-guarantees.

Voice 1: Soo…
Voice 2: … Yeah?
Voice 1: Nothing, I was just… you know.
Voice 2: Uuh… nope, I don’t.

Isn’t that boring? Granted, there’s no context or back story, but pointless dialogue is pointless (unless you have Up’s Doug, then everything has a point, ha ha–). Of course, most dialogues in writing actually look like this:

“Soo…” said Voice 1.
“… Yeah?” replied Voice 2.
“Nothing, I was just… you know.” said Voice 1, fidgeting.
“Uuh… nope, I don’t.” awkwardly answered Voice 2.

Not much better huh? When I took my Creative Writing 101 class, the instructor mentioned to get rid of all those tags, or anything after the dialogue, when unnecessary. And frankly, you don’t need them once it’s established who’s speaking. Maybe it’ll look a bit more like this:

“Soo…”
“… Yeah?”
“Nothing, I was just… you know.”
“Uuh… nope, I don’t.”

See? No tags, and you still knew who was talking. Hopefully not just from reading the same thing over and over, but because each speaker (supposedly) has their own, unique voice. It’s a little more difficult with more than two people, but if your characters are established and one is known to be snarky, one lazy and one preppy, well– no problems conveying who’s who to your readers.

Even better without the tags, actually, because your readers can imagine each character’s action as they go: if they’re uncomfortable, dominating the room, or anything.

Of course you’ll need a few tags sometimes, but apparently it’s easier to stick with “said X” than anything because readers kind of gleam over that. If your dialogue is good enough, I can see how it’ll work. It’s probably just a lot of trial and error, and even more feedback from readers.

Okay so: get rid of unnecessary tags. But that’s only one aspect of dialogue. Aren’t there writers out there who feel like dialogue is a good buffer, to air out the dense paragraphs or alleviate the text? Personally, I don’t think that’s a good way to look at it, although I’m not sure I can explain it clearly.

Dialogue is… how your characters take over your book. Just teasing, but it’s a way to move the story forward probably quicker than through narration. It keeps your characters interesting when they react to events or other people and it’s really where their personalities can shine. In some situations, dialogue can describe/illustrate something a thousand times better than narration, because it paints a picture.

So does narration, okay fine, but somehow dialogue’s different. They’re all just words we pick and place next to each other after hours of agonizing over which word to use, but dialogue doesn’t have to. Dialogue is human and easier to convey because wow, we have many dialogues X times a day!

Of course, that’s not to say dialogue is easy to write. On the contrary, it might be (is?) even harder to write. You don’t want pointless “Uh huh”s or “I see”s peppered throughout your story that the readers will just skip, so it needs to be clever, maybe concise and be full of character. Humor’s always good, as long as it’s not forced.

Basically, while you might use dialogue as a buffer on your first draft, by the last draft the dialogue should be a crucial part of the story, which also makes it come alive. As always, if you have any tips or comments, feel free to share them. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Obstacle #15: Dialogue

  1. When I study narrative techniques, it’s isually in the realm of video game storytelling. However, I’ve seen some stuff about storytelling in games and in horror games in particular which I feel are related to your discourse, here.

    Basically, there’s strong evidence to indicate that when it comes to horror games, the less detail you give the scarier it will be. If you leave things half-defined, the player’s brain fills in the other half in a way uniquely creepy to him or her. The games tap into players’ instinctual fear of the unknown and let their imaginations do the rest.

    One piece of evidence which helped kick off this discussion among game developers was the release of the HD version of Silent Hill. In the original PlayStation version, the town was cery, very foggy. This design choice was made because they were pushing the graphical limits of the system far enough that they had to reduce visibility distance so the game would run without lag. They therefore thinned out the fog andimproved visibility ob the HD version because they could — it was how they had wanted to do it in the first place. But it turned out that the fact that you couldn’t see very far was a huge factor in making the game scary.

    There have been a number of other, non-horror discussions on how much narrative you need in a game, but they all kinda boil down to how letting the audience fill in details for themselves where specificity is unecessary allows for deeper emotional connection to what’s going on. And also avoiding boringly long exposition.

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