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Bob Nailor




Dialogue? Dialog? Can We Talk?

It really doesn't matter which way you spell the word, be it either "dialog" or "dialogue." The discussion isn't about spelling the word but how to use the subject in writing. By the way, for ease, I'll be spelling it "dialog" so don't get upset. Both spellings are correct.

Dialog can be a useful tool in writing. It gives the reader a chance to get to know the character via his speech pattern. In America there are dialects and words that denote where a person originated or at least was raised.

But real dialog in writing is an art form. We've all seen those horrible sentences that attempt to make one feel homey. You know the ones —

How are you? I am fine.

But, is that real dialog? Is that how people talk?

Of course, we don't want to go to the other extreme —

You b-jizzle da sparkle on da fly. Yous hearing what I sez?

No, we want to carry on the conversation with simple words.

"Where you going, Harry?" Joe asked.
Harry turned and said, "Down to the auto store for brakes."
"Great! I need a new tail light," Joe said. "Want me to drive?"
Harry laughed then said, "Beats walking."

Not what you'd call a perfect conversation but with two guys in a garage, talking cars, one wouldn't expect a scientific lecture. Still, the conversation is stilted and uncomfortable for the reader. Some of it is awkward.

For me, putting the dialog tag "said" before the sentence is indicative of fore-shadowing... I'm going to talk now. To me, it is almost as if the character is saying "Listen, I'm about to say something and it might be important."

Of course, we all get tired of the "yada-yada," Joe said followed by "yada, yada," Harry said. That sentence structure gets extremely monotonous very quickly.

Let's try a different approach to the same conversation by adding extra text.

"Where you going, Harry?" Joe asked.
Harry turned from the sidewalk and headed toward Joe's garage. "Down to the auto store for brakes."
"Great! I need a new tail light." Joe stood up and tapped the tail light one more time. "Want me to drive?"
Harry snickered before jumping into the front seat. "Beats walking."

By adding a little "atmosphere" to the conversation, you, as the writer, have given more depth to the dialog. It is no longer a trite diatribe between two men but a camaraderie.

Dialog can carry the story, even tell the story but the writer must make sure to include details or you might wind up with...

...it is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.
                        ~ William Shakespeare




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~ COMMENTS ~

Elise Stokes
2014-06-30
Here, here. Dialogue makes or breaks the character and story, in my opinion, and is the only part I care about in a read. I could care less what color walls are painted or the color of a table cloth. I usually skim through blocks of description to the only part I'm interested in: interaction.
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Ms. Cheevious
2014-06-30
I completely agree… This is why I talk to myself OFTEN. That counts, right?
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Lisa Jey Davis
2014-06-30
You know, I find that well written dialogue can carry me away almost more than descriptive text. I can feel the emotions of the person speaking if it's done well. Great post Bob!
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Bob Nailor
2014-06-30
@Elise and Lisa: I completely agree that dialogue can make a story but sometimes rather than using "said" constantly, a little detail and action helps to define the conversation. No way am I saying to ramble on for paragraphs of detail. But like in my example, noting the garage gave the conversation more depth than the first example which was more like a phone call. Does that make sense?
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Elyse Salpeter
2014-10-24
What an absolutely fantastic blog post. I can't believe I missed this and everything you said is so true. Thank you for posting.
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Bob Nailor
2014-10-24
Thanks, Elyse, for the compliment. As to you not seeing/getting this, I'm not sure since you're on my mailing list. LOL. Hmm? Maybe I need to check into that!
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