Monday, July 12, 2010

Dialogue: Real Life vs Literature

Writers strive to make stories real, believable.

However, one thing we readers do not want too real in our fiction is dialogue. We want fictional conversation to be believable and to look real, but we don't want it to reflect what we actually hear in our everyday conversations.

For example, if we have two characters discussing a date which took place the previous evening, we don't want to hear two women discussing the topic the way REAL women might talk.

Let's take a look at a scene using real life conversation (in the first example) versus fictional conversation designed to look real (in the second example).

Scene, a coffee cafe, two girl friends, early 20's sitting at a table and talking:

Girl 1: You and Tony went out, didn't you?

Girl 2: Yeah, you know, he picked me up at 7, around that time, I think, maybe it was later. I don't remember exactly what time he came. I got home late from work and, like, I was rushing around, trying to get ready, looking for my gray skirt. You remember the one I got at Macy's last fall when we went shopping before Thanksgiving?

Girl 1: Oh, the one you got at that great sale? Gees, what was that, like 35% off?

Girl 2: No, it was 50% off.

Girl 1: What a deal! Did Tony like it?

Girl 2: He never said, but he did say I looked nice, so I guess he must have liked it. Anyway....

(20 minutes later)

Girl 1: So you guys went to see "Knight and Day", huh?

Girl 2: Yeah, and I think he got a little emotional at the ending. (sighs) He's sweet, you know, I think. Kinda sweet, anyway.

Girl 1: Kinda sweet?

Girl 2: (shifting uncomfortably) Yeah, he, like, sighed and smiled at the end of the movie and said he liked it, but then when he walked me to the door, he made a grab for me before he even tried to kiss me.

Girl 1: How disgusting! Some guys. You think they're all romantic and sweet, then they go and do a pig thing like that instead of just trying to give a nice little good night kiss the way they should on the first date.

Girl 2: Yeah, I hate that.

Girl 1: (sips her coffee) So, are you going to see him again soon?

Girl 2: I think, you know, like I figured, I shouldn't cut him off completely just because he did one pig thing. He is kinda cute, don't you think?
Okay, lets see if we can "literary up" this little scene--

Scene, a coffee cafe, two girl friends, early 20's sitting at a table and talking:

Girl 1: How did your date with Tony go last night?

Girl 2: Not bad.

Girl 1: Not bad, huh? Sounds good. What did you two do?

Girl 2: We went to see "Knight and Day."

Girl 1: That's a terrific date movie. I saw it last week.

Girl 2: We both loved it. Tony loved all the action, chases, crashes, and I loved the romance. Cameron's character had some really great stunts too, which I enjoyed.

Girl 1: (raising an eyebrow and grinning) What about Tony? Did he have a great stunt or two?

Girl 2: (giggling) Stunts? I guess one thing he did could be called a stunt, and it wasn't a good one.

Girl 1: What'd he do?

Girl 2: (sighing) At the end of the movie, he got really emotional, almost choked up. I thought to myself, gee, this guy is really sweet.

Girl 1: That is sweet. I loved the ending too.

Girl 2: Who wouldn't? It was perfect. However, (shifting and twisting her mouth) mine and Tony's ending wasn't sweet at all, not with the stunt he pulled. When he walked me to the door, he made a grab for me.

Girl 1: Right out of the blue? Before he even kissed you or anything?

Girl 2: Yeah. I almost slapped his face, but I didn't.

Girl 1: (drinks coffee, gives friend a tentative look) So...are you going to see him again.

Girl 2: (shrugging, smiling) Why not? He's kinda cute, don't you think?
See the difference? The "literary" dialogue is definitely believable, seems totally real too, but it isn't real enough to include all the side-tracking, uhs, you knows, likes, ahs, needless details, etc. we often use in our natural, normal conversations.

Dialogue can be tricky. Writing it so it flows smoothly while it engages the reader at the same time isn't easy, but it is doable.

Take care and have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

1 comment:

April Ash said...

We have to write the way we speak to present believable dialogue. Literary "talk" is fine, but who wants to read perfect, unnatural dialogue? Knowing age generations and they talk is vital when writing!