Dialog – MSP Workshop Notes

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Notes from the MinnSpec May workshop on dialog.

  • Some examples and terms are pulled from the Turkey City Lexicon
    • A list of common problems in speculative fiction dialog
    • Brenda Starr dialog
      • Disembodied dialog
      • Dialog consisting of just quotation marks down the page
      • This type of dialog makes following who is speaking difficult
      • When there is dialog with no attributions, there is a loss of opportunity.
        • There is the loss of stage action. There is a lost opportunity for sparks to fly.
      • Brenda Starr dialog is a film problem too. There is an example by screen writer Stephen J Cannell.
  • People rarely just talk
    • Use dialog heavy scenes from television as an example
      • Babylon 5 Sheridan capture
      • West World robots being interrogated
      • Where are they?
      • What are they doing?
      • Who is saying what?
      • Does the scene have momentum?
  • Quick back and forth discussion does have tension
  • Floating dialog occurs toward the middle or end of a scene
    • Starting a scene with floating dialog creates the risk of an anticlimax
  • Mixing one character’s words and another character’s actions in one paragraph causes confusion.
    • “I hate you!” Debbie slammed the door.
    • In this example, Debbie says, “I hate you,” and slammed the door. The sentences would be misread if the intention was for someone to say, “I hate you,” and for Debbie to slam the door.
  • Dialog can be a pacing tool to break up long periods of text.
  • “As you know Bob”
    • Exposition disguised as dialog
    • Dune: “Is it not a magnificent thing that I, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, do?”
  • Said Bookism
    • Substitutes for said
  • Tom Swifty
    • Tom said swiftly.
  • Writer’s Digest series has a book on dialog
  • https://www.amazon.com/Self-Editing-Fiction-Writers-Yourself-Print/dp/0062720465/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1526840298&sr=8-2&keywords=self+editing+for+fiction+writers
  • Read dialog out loud to catch clunky things to say
  • Listen to dialog
    • Record it – lots of free software
    • Use speech to text
    • Have another person read it to you
  • The dialog in plays and short stories are different
    • In plays, it feels like you are allowed to have more ornamentation. Everyone can be clever and have zingers.
    • In novels and short stories, there is more of an attempt to be realistic. We try to capture the flavor of real life. You don’t have as much liberty to say witty, zingy things.
  • If all of the characters are witty, they start sounding like the same character. I think this was mentioned in  Writing Excuses 10.38 How Does Context Shape Dialog?
  • How do you make your characters sound different from each other? How do you give them a different voice?
    • Write a brief biography
    • Use register, the level of English a character speaks
    • One author writes characters as he imagines another author would write.
      • How would Earnest Hemingway write this character?
      • How would William Faulkner write this other character
  • Translation convention
    • The idea that in an alien world, they are speaking in another language, but the book has to be written in English.
    • You can create dialects or idioms to convey aliens
    • Example: Clockwork Orange
    • Too many idioms or injected dialect instances can exhaust readers.
  • Historical fiction grapples with historically accurate dialog sounding farsical
    • Example Deadwood, old swearing had to be upgraded because old fashioned
  • How do you keep dialogs with three people straight without everyone saying said?
    • Dialog tags
    • Voice
    • Juggle pairs of people, the third person can talk once in a while
  • Resource: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

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