Thursday, 21 February 2013

Writer's Corner: The Trouble With Dialogue

Wow, it feels like forever since I did my last Writer's Corner post. It's not because I've had less writing insecurities that's for sure. Amongst other things I've been struggling a lot with the dialogue in my books. I worry about the voice, the vocab and the inevitable Aussie vernacular that permeates my MS. Earlier this week I read THIS POST on the Novel Publicity website about the many ways in which dialogue can enhance your writing.
        It hit me after reading the article that all my characters whether young or old, rich or poor, male or female, all sound exactly the same. I can't seem to disengage from my characters to imbue them with their own sense of self. So invariably everyone turns into subdued caricatures with various levels of sarcasm to their speech. In other words, they are all me supplanted into a MS and given an overcoat of background.
        I hadn't noticed this so much until I started reading a few American western themed books with vivid characters who speak in their beautiful southern drawls.It made a noticeable difference to my enjoyment of the story. I just don't get it. I love different accents in real life but somehow this doesn't translate into my writing. Granted it's difficult to really have people with accents in a futuristic dystopian world where everyone is meant to be quite homogenized but still, I don't do it in the stories I write that are set in this modern age either. 
       Besides the fact that everyone sounds the same, I feel like I've fallen into the trap of using dialogue as a way to sneak in excessive info dumping. I admit to being one of those readers who love dialogue and I prescribe to the rule of more is more. But even I can admit that when the dialogue goes for two thirds of a page and it's all exposition, that it's probably excessive.
       So let's say I am dialogue deficient. How important is dialogue to your enjoyment of a book? Not just in terms of character distinction, but how much do you think is too much dialogue for a book? Can you forgive a book that has strange dialogue or is it a deal breaker?


  1. It's easy to let secondary characters all sound 'vanilla.' Once we realize we're doing it, then we can work to make them unique.
    I like a balance of dialogue and action. Long sections of exposition bore me.

  2. That's my issue too, whitch I think is why I chose a guy for my MC. There is no way I can turn myself into a guy, so I was able to turn my dream guy into the MC, and myself into his love interest, and my hated cousin into the jealous b***h along for the ride. It's the additional random characters who I have a lot of trouble with, so I gave them all minor roles. Hopefully when I go back to edit (no I havent started editing yet. I wanted to give myself a chance to forget most of the novel before I jumped back in for edits.) I can make the characters even more different.

  3. Sometimes I feel like my secondary characters sound alike but most of the time I try to add a slightly different edge to each character. I'm sure there's a lot of similarities I don't realize since I'm the one writing it though. I don't know if I ever really notice characters in books seeming to sound alike. As far as dialogue in general goes, I say it all depends on the story. You need enough to show communication and essential conversation, but you also need to balance it out with what's going on around the character or even in the character's head. I enjoy books more when there is more dialogue and not a TON of being inside the character's head. I have a tendency to skim when there's too much description and not enough of the character's talking, lol. Strange dialogue? Depends on how strange and if it fits in with the book. Like Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, the way Scarlet spoke and the inner dialogue was different, but I got used to it and it was very enjoyable.

  4. Aaaaargh Lan this is such a HUGE problem of mine. Im struggling with dialogue 'somethin awful'.And you have put my struggle into words so beautifully. Im having the prob of EVERYBODY in my books ends up sounding like a certain sarcastic, snarky someone i know...okay, me. They all sound like me at diff points in my day. I hate it. Its so difficult for me to do dialogue. My other issue with it is that for some of my characters to be and sound authentic, they have to speak with certain 'Samoan' or fa'afafine speech'isms and then the Western reader doesnt get it or like it or they think Im grammatically deficient. All my books needs a glossary i guess.
    Thanks for this one. More food for thought. Im going to a dialogue writing workshop next month and looking fwd to it. Need all the help i can get.

  5. I have to admit that I like lots and lots of dialogue. I've never read a story that made me feel like there was too much of it. I also just read a western and one of the things I loved was the accent and style of speech that really just transported me to a completely different time and place.

    Maybe you would try writing one chapter with you Aussie accent/slang and see how it plays?

    I know how hard it is to give all your characters different voices! Sometimes I think it comes more down to opinion/point of view, instead of an accent and a speech pattern. All my friends in high school used the same language/slang, but what really differentiated us were our different perspectives.

    Great post!

  6. Hm. Tough question. I myself like a lot of dialogue too. Funnily enough, what I can't stand is too much description. Conversations between characters are what make up the majority of the story, is my opinion. Sorry I can't help you with characters sounding the same, as I don't have much experience myself. lol. Hopefully you'll be able to find some way to make them all unique :)

  7. I can get so carried away with dialogue that I don't write the beats in between. That's bad and makes my writing too "white." That's my main problem with it, but it's easy to have the issue of every character sounding the same and using the same accent. They would have the same accents if they are all from the same region, so no problem there. But, they would all realistically have different personalities, so I guess you have to think how a person who is very nice would talk vs. someone who is very rude/sarcastic/mean, that sort of thing.

    Dialogue has to be in a book, but I don't think you should stress over it so much. If anything, your critique partners will help you out! ;)

  8. Wow, I haven't really thought that much about dialog before. As a reader, I don't think I usually notice dialog that much, unless it doesn't fit the context of the book. Like if the dialog is super colloquial and vernacular when the book is supposed to be taking place in Victorian England or something. And I don't usually notice if characters all sound the same or not unless the book is from alternating first-person perspectives. Then it becomes noticeable to me just because I'm spending so much time with each character. Good luck getting your manuscript to where you want it, Lan!

  9. I don't know what I can say that is any different that what's already been said. I don't usually notice the difference in character's dialogue, though, and you know how picky I am. I do, however, notice when characters all ACT the same. That's what I really think you have to watch. Personalities. And, yes, I guess that means they all have to talk a bit differently.


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