3 REASONS WHY REAL SPEECH MAKES FOR POOR DIALOG
by J. Rose Allister
by J. Rose Allister
How to pen good dialog is an element of fiction that gets talked about a good deal among writers. No book on writing is complete without a section about dialog, and many entire books have been dedicated to the subject. I hear many writers advise others to write "realistic" dialog by listening to the way people talk and emulating it. Unfortunately, this is advice that cannot be left on its own, or the results are lackluster. I recently did a beta read for someone who used that approach, and it reminded me that realistic fiction dialog is clever deception, not emulation. So here are my three reasons why real speech makes for poor dialog:
1. Real Greetings are Dull and ExpectedWhen two acquaintances meet up in real life, their initial exchange involves a volley of social niceties that are routine, required...and boring. If you're sitting nearby, you'll hear something like this:
"How are you?"
"Fine. The kids?"
"Good. How's work?"
"Same old same old."
This might go on for another couple of minutes, depending. The exchange happens automatically, with little thought on the answers. Ever greet someone and responded with, "Fine, you?" only to realize they hadn't actually asked how you were first? You're on autopilot. A great place to be if you're flying a plane, but fiction should never put a reader on automatic. "Routine, required, boring," are three words we don't want to see pop up in reviews.
2. Hemming and Hawing Spoils PacingI did a brief training stint doing transcribing. Listen to a recording of someone's speech or conversation and you'll hear a whole lot of hemming and hawing. "Uh," "huh," "and then," "so anyways," etc. are peppered through human speech on an epic scale. Some people insert these into almost every sentence. Check out this baby:
"Uh, yeah, what? So, anyways, like I was saying, he told me to go."
This is actual conversation. Put a ton of this into your "real" dialog and you'll slow pacing to a crawl. Readers will be snoring in no time. On the other hand, getting to the point packs a fictional punch:
"He told me to go."
3. Lack of All-Important ConflictYou probably have a friend, family member, or co-worker with a colorful, conflict-riddled personality. Every story includes dread dire circumstances and over the top drama. However, the majority of people aren't like this. Their "real" conversations avoid conflict like the plague. They tap dance over social niceties, deal in small talk, and hem and haw...anything to skid around emotional hot topics. In fiction, skirting an issue *can* be written masterfully to increase suspense. For the most part, however, small talk and chit-chat lack vital conflict that makes for good fiction.
Which is more intriguing to read:
"Hey! How are things?"
"Okay. Pretty wet out there. Crazy weather."
"Yeah. But we needed the rain."
"You stole him from me."
"How? You two never even dated."
"But you knew how I felt and asked him out anyway."
"We both know you never would have. And just because it's raining outside doesn't mean you have to throw your wet blanket on me."
So remember, when writing dialog based on "realistic" conversation, keep these three reasons in mind. Using them on occasion to boost suspense and cutting the rest will make your "real" dialog more fun.
J. Rose Allister is the author of more than thirty books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night.