Sunday, June 18, 2017

Bad dialogue simplifies people, instead of revealing complexity.

With bad dialogue, all characters’ sound alike. Bad dialogue simplifies people, instead of revealing their complexity. The worst kind of bad dialogue simply doesn't sound at all like real people talking. 

Here's an example of bad dialogue from an unpublished novel:

"What do you want here?" queried Jade. "If it's anymore about what happened a while ago you can..."

"Listen, Jade,” Dick rasped. “I want the code!"

"What damn code?" Jade inquired.

"The Code!" he bellowed. The man stormed out of the room in displeasure and annoyance.
[Well. I guess that's better than storming out in disquiet and annotation.]

Dick came back in and pulled out a fairly sized [sic] gun and fired a round at Jade, who fell over in astonishment.

[Sure, I get it. I'd be astonished if someone shot me with a "fairly sized gun." Why did Dick storm out of the room in displeasure and annoyance, then immediately come back in, and pull out a gun?]

Here's an example of bad dialogue from an unpublished novel by a Florida woman:

(A man hears a shot in a crowded stadium and runs outside to tell a cop. How he heard it over the roar of the crowd must be discovered another day.)

"Officer, officer," he called. "I just witnessed a gun being fired inside the stadium. I didn't see whom it hit, but I saw a man shoot a gun that was aimed at somebody. Somebody is shot. Call an ambulance and get help."

First, he says he "didn't see who it hit,” [unless someone actually threw the gun, I think it's likely he didn't see who the bullet hit.] Secondly, he couldn't know it "was aimed at somebody" unless he saw it before it was fired.

Now I think we have a clear picture of what bad dialogue is. Here is your reward. Here's the worst dialogue I have ever seen from an alleged writer:

·       The phone rang, hello it was Dillan. "Ruth, I do not understand you. I mean, I just got through explaining that my wife would be home in a matter of minutes, and yet, you waste the precious time we have writing letters. Now, you might say (you might not too), well the letters are for you. Well, if they are, can't you write them later? If they aren't, then write them on someone else's time! This so typical of you and your childish ways. Calling me when you are steeped in writing letters to whom I do not know.”

·       Ruth became outraged and responded as follows. "First of all, I did not call you. It was probably someone else who you gave your number too. I understood the first time you told me not to call. So why would I take a chance and call when your wife is expected in a matter of minutes? I understood full well that your wife was expected to be coming home, momently, did I not? I think that we misunderstood each other.”

The major problem with that scene is that it is not a conversation. The two characters simply delivered speeches as if they were writing E-mail. In real life, the responses would have come immediately after the comments that prompted the responses. The other problem was the awful stilted dialogue with no contractions at all.

(By the way, I cut more than half of the dialogue before I presented it to you.)

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews