Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Post About Stitled, Nasty-Ass Dialogue

Okay folks, a bit of a rant here.

There's nothing that bothers me more than bad dialogue. You know what I'm talking about. The type of dialogue that reads like this:

Sam: But Jill, I know that you and your father have been wanting to move away from here for a while, but there's no way you have the money to leave now!

Jill: I don't have a choice, Sam. It's either leave now or have Grandpa come back and stab us in the back again! We may be poor, but we're not going to let ourselves be taken advantage of so easily!


Have you EVER heard human beings speak like this? Technically, the sentences are fine! Grammatically correct and everything. But DEAR GOD how they sound like robots.

Real humans converse with much fewer words, especially in English. Not only that, but both Sam and Jill speak exactly the same way. There's no difference in their language, in the words they choose, in the length and density of their sentences.

A rewritten, better version of this exchange:

Sam: Look Jill, I know you want to get out of here, but you really don't have the money right now.

Jill: I don't care. Sam, I can't stick around waiting for Grandpa to stab us in the back again. Just because we don't have any money doesn't mean we're gonna let anybody take advantage of us.

See? Don't they sound MUCH more like humans? But I bet we could make this better. Let's make Sam a high-end kinda guy - maybe a fancy attorney, and Jill his trailer-park-resident high-school sweetheart.

Sam: Jill, listen. I know you want to get out of here, but you just don't have the money to move.

Jill: I don't care! What am I supposed to do, stick around waiting for Grandpa to come and stab us in the back again? Me and Dad are getting out of here whether we got any money or not, Sam. We're poor, not suckers.

Hey! This is fun! Let's try it another way. Sam is Jill's nervous subordinate at a shipping warehouse and Jill is his immediate supervisor. Let's say their relationship is an amicable one, but Sam is still a little nervous about speaking up to Jill.

Sam: Jill, I just...I don't know... I get why you wanna get out, but - I don't know - do you really have the money to move right now?

Jill: I don't really care. We aren't letting my Grandpa take advantage of us anymore. I'm tired of getting stabbed in the back, and so's Dad. So that's it - we're outta here.

Or my favorite! TEENAGERS. <3 Teenagers speak with even FEWER formal parts of speech than adults and use a lot of slang/shortenings. HOWEVER, they don't sound like Jersey Shore obsessed fluff brains all the time. Observe:

Sam: I dunno, like, it doesn't sound like you have enough money to move.

Jill: Don't care - Grandpa's been totally stabbing me and Dad in the back for years. So now we're doing something about it. We're poor, not stupid.

So yeah.

Basic lesson: dialogue is SUPER important and it ticks me off when people write it crappy. I mean seriously - you talk everyday and hopefully, people talk back at you. LISTEN. Maybe even eavesdrop on a conversation and write it down. See how real people talk. It'll be a big help.


  1. haha, I enjoyed reading this. Very informational! To me at least...I'm an artist, not a writer :p Nice post!

  2. Sam: Got enough money to move?
    Jill: Don't care.


  3. I always think it's weird whenever characters just casually throw in the name of the person their talking to. Personally, I've never said the name of a person I'm talking to unless I'm trying to get their attention or trying to make a point.

  4. @Aleema - XD Nice. To be honest, that's how the conversation would go if Sam and Jill knew all the details of the situation. The toughest part of writing good dialogue is getting all the info to the reader without having the characters go on a super-robot monologue. :/

    @Datie - Oh it is SO weird. It's tough when you're trying to establish the names of the characters in dialogue. You have to find a place to stick them where it feels natural. But, yes, Datie, you make a very good point. Names in conversation are super awkward, Datie. Datie, thanks for the comment. <3 ...Datie.

  5. Yeah, I try to strip out all the character name references after I write them, and then go back to see if they would actually HELP the dialogue.

    It's tough watching some movies, because they all have to awkwardly introduce themselves. Worse, historical movies where a bunch of historical figures are together, so they HAVE to do something like "Good morning George Washington. You know my friend Thomas Jefferson. Of course! We were having tea with him yesterday with Benjamin Franklin! I, John Hancock, am a very forgetful fellow."

    And then there's movies where you can start a drinking game by how often the main character's name is said. Telltale sign of an amateur writer ("THIS NAME IS F'ING RAD!!").