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ddude1116's avatar

Does anyone have suggestions for crafting realistic, or at least plausible, dialogue?

Asked by ddude1116 (5565 points ) February 18th, 2012

I enjoy writing, and I can craft a story well enough, and imagery, (when I try), but dialogue is my weakest point, and also one of the most vital for crafting believable characters.

What I had most in mind were screenplays and film, because dialogue is most necessary there, but I’m also interested in plain-text stories, and even graphic novels, where it’s also very much necessary. I was wondering if there was anything I should keep in mind, or take note of when talking to anybody, or while observing them outside of dialogue, like body language.

Basically, I want some advice so I could experiment further on my own, because I just need something to push myself into actually giving it a better effort. Anything would be appreciated!

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18 Answers

King_Pariah's avatar

What I do is find a public place, sit down, and listen, catch the words, slang, and what not that spews forth and how they’re used. maybe even write some down.

Bellatrix's avatar

Do you carry a notebook? I think it is really useful to keep one and note down things you hear on the bus, in the local coffee shop etc. Eavesdrop on not just what people say, but the way they say it and what they don’t say. The words they miss etc. Listen and observe.

@King_Pariah and I are reading each other’s minds.

King_Pariah's avatar

@Bellatrix get out of my head!

ddude1116's avatar

@King_Pariah @Bellatrix I’ve always wanted to try that, but it just seems weird spying on them like that, you know? It shouldn’t be difficult to overcome, but yeah, I’ll try that! Thanks!

Bellatrix's avatar

You have to be subtle… just look like you are studying or something. Some people actually record conversations so they can analyse them later. I think this is illegal though.

If the people are engrossed, they won’t even notice you are jotting down phrases they are saying.

Always keep a book with you though. The number of times I overhear a conversation and I have got a different bag with me and no book!

@King_Pariah…wow…that’s a very unusual thought…

fundevogel's avatar

I think the most important thing is knowing your characters. When you really you who they are your understanding of them and their relationship to the situation you’ve written them into will generate the dialogue. You can’t put the words into their mouths, you need to let them act and react.

It’s been my experience that people have the easiest time writing dialogue in their own voice. So you might be able to get comfortable writing dialogue for a character that’s drawn from yourself. That’s not a bad place to start. Though it can be a bitch and a half learning to write characters that aren’t like you.

Jeruba's avatar

Realistic dialogue gives an illusion of realism and is nothing like a transcript of actual conversations, which make horrible fictional speech.

Don’t overdo the speech mannerisms (slang, favorite expressions, grammatical lapses, colloquialisms, habits of style). They’re cheap tricks to make characters seem recognizable and distinct, but they get old very quickly.

cazzie's avatar

Plays and sceenplays seldom use realistic dialogue because the story needs to be carried by it, more so for plays than movies. Remember the joke in Austin Powers, where his helper is called Basil Exposition? That cracks me up every time I hear it. His character and dialogue were used to explain situations and set up Austin for his next adventure.
Now books can use very realistic dialogue because we get to read what is going on and what is in the characters heads, little expose’s about the characters etc…

Having voice overs in movies is considered cheating a bit, but if you notice, when screenwriters take a book and make it into a movie they almost ALWAYS use voice over because there is so much story to tell that simple dialogue can’t do it.

In plays and movies, every strip of dialogue has to be used to tell the story. That is the craft. Good luck.

CardAngel's avatar

When I write a dialogue between characters, I always act out each characters part. I pretend I am the character and I act and react how each character would. I use dialogue that responds to what the other character/s are saying and doing authentically. I’ve read or heard too much dialogue that seems inauthentic because the next character to speak is made to say something just to make a point that seems disjointed to the conversation rather than an appropiate response to the conversation.

downtide's avatar

It’s important to read dialogue aloud. If it doesn’t sound right, it’s not right.

ddude1116's avatar

@Bellatrix That’s a good idea! I’ll get one of those memo pads carry it around with me, and then designate certain days where I go to Panera or Starbucks, and just sit and listen.

@fundevogel Alright, yeah! I’ve been practicing mostly with prose from my own self, so I know I’ve got my own character down, but I’ll try sketching out and considering each character and thinking of it from their perspective.

@Jeruba That’s interesting…but do people use speech mannerisms often in everyday speech? I’ve always considered it an occasional thing during conversation..

@cazzie I’ve always figured that, but what about a film like Crash? It seemed to have very realistic dialogue, which added to its depth. And I’ve always thought voice-overs were a wonderful tool if used correctly. Have you seen Days Of Heaven? I’m enamored with that film for its use of voice over and storytelling, for the narrator added depth to the story without carrying it along. But also films like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard, where the voice-over is used as much to get the story going and to maintain its momentum, or sometimes to add to the themes, such as in Barry Lyndon, where it just destroys the suspense of the film, and replaces it with intrigue. There’re just a lot if options, it’s kind of overwhelming…

@CardAngel That’s a great idea, actually..I’ll try that out! After all, dialogue is a purely action/reaction medium.

@downtide I’ll start doing that! I’ve yet to do that, since, well, I don’t know, actually… I just haven’t done it..but I will, now!

cazzie's avatar

I’m not anti-voice over. Not at all. I really loved its use in ‘American Beauty’ and if I thought longer about it, I could name plenty other movies.

If you want an author to read that is really good with natural dialogue, give Don DeLillo a try. I like Michael Cunningham as well. If you haven’t read ‘The Hours’ please do, and then watch the movie. Beautiful story telling though dialogue.

HungryGuy's avatar

Just sit back, relax, close your eyes, and imagine two real people having a similar discussion in the proper setting. Works for me…

mazingerz88's avatar

Well dude, whatever you do, don’t write like Shakespeare! Lol. : )

Jeruba's avatar

@ddude1116, I suppose it depends on how you define it, as well as what you listen for. I know people who

•  make heavy use of contemporary slang, so if you’re not up on the latest, you can’t understand half of what they say
•  mix in a lot of 1950s-1960s slang, thereby constantly reminding you of how old they are
•  use a lot of catch phrases from TV shows and TV commercials (at least I’m guessing that’s what they are)
•  use jargon from their profession (especially if it’s in computers)
•  use jargon from their favorite sport
•  include a lot of vulgarities and profanity
•  rarely use complete sentences
•  always speak in the present tense
•  speak in full, exhausting paragraphs
•  begin in medias res, so you either have to interrupt them to ask for context or wait and put it all together when they finish
•  use a lot of poetic and metaphorical language
•  deliver their speeches with a tone of weighty significance
•  incorporate a lot of allusions to their religious faith
•  end every sentence with a question mark
•  laugh after every single blessed sentence
•  include empty phrases such as “you know” and “and all” (“We were, you know, late and all”)
•  routinely reflect an optimistic or pessimistic philosophy in their utterances
•  try to make everything they say sound like a jest or wisecrack, and insert such a remark at every possible opening (a tiresome attention-getting ploy)
•  qualify everything with self-deprecating language and disclaimers (“Maybe it’s just me, but…,” “I know this sounds weird, but…”)
•  never know how to conclude their comments, so they habitually just trail off, often on the word “but”

I’m not describing “occasional” use but speech habits that have caught my attention, sometimes to the point of making me want to scream and run away. (The woman who laughed after every sentence used to occupy the cubicle next to me, call her sister every day and talk for at least half an hour, and laugh after every sentence. I typically came to a halt in my editing work when she started and couldn’t concentrate on anything again until she stopped.)

A little of this in a story is characterization; a lot seems like a gimmick, except that real people do it.

Bellatrix's avatar

Great advice @Jeruba. Thank you.

ddude1116's avatar

@Jeruba That was a wonderful clarification, thank you! I’ll keep that in mind!

ddude1116's avatar

@cazzie I wasn’t accusing you of being anti-voice-over, it’s just very much intrigued me since I realized it can do more than just further the story. But I’ll look into those authors, too! I’m always up for a good book!

@HungryGuy I’ll give that a shot!

@mazingerz88 Oh, don’t worry! Just thinking of iambic pentameter makes my head spin…and making up words is only so-so..

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