Realism is Fake

I’m currently writing (or more precisely thinking about) a short story that involves no dialogue. The reasons are many and varied, but the short version is that I and a circle of some other literary types are challenging each other to write more short stories and this month we’re tasked ourselves with the additional caveat of no dialogue.

 

 

It’s a tricky one, if only because as modern readers we’ve had dialogue rammed down our throats for decades. Whilst surfing t’interweb about the subject I came across this in a list of advice on good dialogue:

3. Develop your ear. Listen carefully to actual people talking, not characters on TV, in movies, or on the radio – the latter kind of dialogue is always artificial, unrealistic, and unconvincing on the written page. No one actually talks like “The Sopranos” or “Friends” or “ER” or “Masterpiece Theater”. Sorry. Don’t mimic stage dialogue either.”

This is nonsense. You’ll find similar tired and mediocre platitudes from many other sources encouraging budding writers to churn out the same tired and mediocre dialogue we’ve been subjected to for years. Despite the apparent falsity of such dialogue, when performed or read it can be very natural.

 

 

The idea that any dialogue, whether from TV, film, stage or book is anything like realistic speech is an utter fallacy and any writer who tries to write their dialogue to mimic true speech properly would end up doing something very avant garde and probably unreadable. As a writer it’s your job to communicate what is being said in an appropriate manner and that means admitting to the fact that your characters’ words are contrived and planned by you, the author.

 

 

I cannot say this enough. Do not try to make your characters speak in the same patterns as real people. Real people stutter, repeat, umm and aah, pause for thought and generally make up what they are saying as they go along. In real life we filter out most of this unnecessary verbiage and concentrate on the words and message. We can do that subconsciously while we are listening, we don’t want to be doing that consciously while we are reading. They are very different functions.

 

 

Imagine how much you’d want to punch the author if a character inserted the word “right?” after every clause, as some people do. Or “okay?”. Or “so”, “and”, “so to speak” and all the other verbal placeholders we use in everyday conversation. Another one that crops up is adding the name of the person you are addressing at the end of a sentence, particularly questions. On the page, how confusing would it get if you did this in your writing, with a forest of names littering your dialogue.

 

 

The other problem with being literal about written dialogue is that artificial attempts to introduce character through speech idioms usually detract from what is being said. The content of your dialogue and any contextual description should be more than enough for readers to understand the sort of tone, pace and volume of the words. By forcing a strange word order to imbue some kind of unique character to a speaker will usually end up getting very repetitive unless you can do it subtly. Similarly, trying to write accents is usually a very bad idea unless you are going to do it for all of your characters (Irvine Welsh, for example).

 

 

Rather than ignoring scripted dialogue, you should seek it out. Script writers will generally not put in particular accent, speech patterns or contractions into dialogue because it’s the job of the actor and, more importantly, the director to make those decisions. Through the magical process of acting and direction what can look somewhat clunky on a page will flow into the ears of the audience from the stage or screen. Good dialogue on screen started out as good dialogue written down. In regards to prose, you must trust your reader to be the actor and director. Every reader will come up with inner voices for the characters that are suitable and appropriate. Let them do so without overly forcing your own view.

 

 

A script may tell a director that Bob enters the room, and he is angry. The director knows the context for the following dialogue. You can do the same for your written dialogue. A reader who is reading speech from a character they know to be angry will understand the volume and tone without you having to end every sentence with an exclamation mark. Give the reader-as-director/ actor enough information and then let them do the rest themselves. It’s this interaction that is enjoyable and makes the reader connect with the words.

 

 

If you want the reader to imagine the speech in a particular way, let them know, simply and directly. If someone is slurring their words because they are drunk, make sure the reader knows they are drunk rather than try to write it literally. Similarly, you can’t force timing into dialogue easily, so if someone is being slow and deliberate or gabbling on at a rate of knots, you need to tell the reader. The Show Don’t Tell police will throw their hands in the air. Good – they’ve managed to throttle the life out of good narrative enough as it is. Good dialogue will subtly reinforce this sense in the reader with the correct use of words and the odd quirk. It shouldn’t ram it down people’s throats.

 

 

Another thing to remember is that dialogue is part of your prose form and hence is part of grammar just like the rest of the sentence. When speaking, we commit run-on sentences, poor subject-object placement and a variety of other sins because it’s transient not permanent; the essence of what is being said can usually be understood without the grammatical guidelines that exist to keep writing clear.

 

 

A person in real life may say:

“Come over here, right, and pick up this ball, the ball, and then I want you to bounce it in that circle, right, the one over there, right Bob?”

Now add “he said” to the end of that sentence. Do you really want to read line after line of that?

 

“Come over here, Bob,” he said. “Pick up the ball and bounce it in that circle.”

Wholly ‘unrealistic’ and much more pleasant to read for page after page.

 

 

A trick that you can generally get away with is sentence fragments, but don’t use them too much. This can convey a more clipped, irritated tone:

“Come here,” he said. “Ball. Circle. Bounce it.”

Or jollity:

“Come here,” he said with a wink. “Ball. Circle. Bounce it.”

With that last one I cheated, of course, in that I gave the character a nonverbal cue for the reader to connect with. It can be tricky writing nonverbal communication (or non-verbal depending on preference). Things we take for granted in communicating face-to-face look awkward if committed to paper in every detail. Describing every gesture, expression and nuance would flatten even the most lyrical composition. Think reader-as-director/ actor and concentrate on the most pertinent points. The reader’s mind will embellish your timeless prose with all manner of subtleties that fit. That’s why reading requires imagination; don’t deny your readers the opportunity to use theirs.

 

The chap who offered this advice, amongst some good and some not-so-good tips, concluded:

“How will you know when your dialogue is improving? It will become so convincing and powerful that you’ll hardly notice it – it will be like listening to real human beings, where you notice the content of what they say, not how they say it. Your reader will concentrate on your story, not on the people talking and the way they talk.

My emphasis. Now that’s good advice.

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  1. If it’s fine with you, I’ve added a link to this on the “Reality Is Unrealistic” page on the TV Tropes Wiki.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RealityIsUnrealistic

  2. Please feel free to link, Jeremy.

    Cheers,

    GAV

  3. A good write up, but I disagree somewhat. I think it’s a matter a pacing, this sort of dialogue will get a reader hung up in Black Library pulp science fiction. However, in slower paced literature it can fit perfectly. An example off the top of my head is _To Kill a Mockingbird_. The story uses accents and slurred speech for particular characters or circumstances without detracting from the story at all. Another fine example is _Their Eyes Were Watching God_, where all of the African American characters speak Ebonics.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to disregard accented dialogue, but it’s definitely something to be used carefully.

  4. I think you make a valid point, Lost Heretic, but I really think that in both of those cases you’re really talking about exceptions that prove the rule. There’s no legislating for classics or works of true genius, so, yes, you will find examples of accented dialogue used successfully, but the only sensible advice to give remains ‘don’t do it’. If you really are Harper Lee, you’re good enough to ignore that advice, and your natural genius will be the reason it works. Absolutely anyone is welcome to try, of course, and others will judge your success, but I certainly think that’s the rank of talent you’re talking about. That caveat of genius applies to pretty much any advice you hear from anybody ever.

    I’ll give one other slight caveat, though, in the shape of dialect. Dialect, as distinct from accent, is a form of language which differs in vocabulary and grammar, and not only pronunciation. Writing in dialect is a special case. We all write in dialect to some degree – UK English and US English are dialects, and whole books are written exclusively in one or the other (and sometimes even translated between them). Other dialects exist of course, and are sometimes used in written English (‘A Kestrel for a Knave’, springs to mind) If you’re writing in a given dialect, it will of course extend to the dialogue, but it isn’t there exclusively for that reason, nor solely to distinguish one character’s dialogue from another (if it is, it’s just accent, and the original argument applies). Likewise, the only really good reason for writing in a particular dialect is because it’s your own. Trying to write a novel in a dialect other than your own seems a very odd, artificial choice – it confuses the author’s own style and language with the character’s nationality or background – and should really be avoided. Again, geniuses excepted, of course, and it’s not to say that some authors don’t possess more than one dialect (almost everybody does, but I’ll stop now before I feel tempted to explain the idea of mesolects and basilects).

    Reet, ah’ll si’thee!

    Matt

  5. Well, you proved your point, and I agree. But I think that closing remark really showed the problem, because I don’t know what you said!

    Writing with accents and dialects may hamper the material, since I don’t think many people in the U.S. would be able to understand a UK author’s interpretation of the thick Aberdeen accent.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  6. ‘Reet, ah’ll si’thee’ literally means ‘right, I’ll see you’; a Yorkshire farewell identical in meaning to ‘see you later’.

    An interesting example of the use of dialects is Alan Garner, who often writes in the Cheshire dialect. What’s particularly interesting about Garner’s use of the dialect is that he does it purposely to preserve the language. Garner points out that his own father would have been able to read ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, in the original, without translation or updating, so similar was his Cheshire dialect to the Middle English used in the poem. Just a few decades later, people born and growing up in the same area would struggle to even recognise ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ as English, such is the diminution of regional dialects. Language changes of course, and not all of its earlier forms can be preserved, but when those forms represent diversity (as languages and dialects do), rather than simply being older examples of the same, their preservation is worthwhile, where it’s natural and sensible to do so (and I’m not suggesting that’s always the case in literature specifically).

    I recently reviewed a book called ‘The Savage’ by David Almond. About halfway through I began to suspect it was written in a moderate Geordie dialect. It was very subtle, just a handful of words – like ‘mam’ used for ‘mum’, for example – which suggested this was the case, but as the book went on it become more obvious. The word ‘pet’ (used as an affectionate name for a person) appeared later on, which is a dead giveaway, and sure enough when I looked into it, the author is a native of North-east England. He didn’t completely obscure the book with the dialect, he didn’t take every single word and replace it with a dialectal form; he simply wrote naturally with such traces of his dialect in evidence as seemed fitting. Would another speaker of English struggle to understand? In one or two instances within the book, possibly, in very extreme cases of divergence, but for a language as widely spoken as English, there’s always the chance of that.

    Using dialect in that manner is no more of a liberty than an American author writing in US English (and it’s not that long ago that many ‘authorities’ on literature would have said that the Standard British form of English was the ‘correct’ one for literary use, in terms of grammar if not spelling) but the point remains that using accent as a means of depicting story or locations remains a pretty bad idea. Use of dialect as the author’s own voice, yes; use of accent as depiction, no.

    Matt

  7. I /like/ dialogue, so I wouldn’t say it’s been rammed down our throats. In fact, I’d be less likely to want to read a story if it had no dialogue. Yesterday I finished re-reading /The Crying of Lot 49/ and found myself getting mildly impatient during Thomas Pynchon’s two- and three-page dialogue-less passages. (He also uses run-on sentences in a way that, were he anybody else, would have seemed amateurish.)

    I do agree with your main point, however. I would hate to read a book in which the characters talked the way people talk in real life.

    There have been exceptions where deliberate and judicious use of real speech enhanced the effect. In the graphic novel /Watchmen/, it was sometimes a significant clue (“Can’t a guy talk to his, you know, his, old friend’s daughter?”), sometimes an impression of a real person (“Uh, Mrs. Nixon, uh, that is, uh Pat…”), and sometimes just to indicate extra emotion (despite the medium also having the drawing of a person emoting to give us the same information). By contrast, the two super-intelligent characters in the book speak precisely and without any realistic clutter.

    When I’m alone, and I can talk to myself without drawing attention, I do in fact rehearse what I want to say about various topics, so that when the time comes I can deliver a concise, crunchy speech that will people’s attention.

  8. (Or rather, will /hold/ people’s attention.)

  9. [...] Realism is fake — Some really nice stuff here on the art of writing dialogue. (Thanks to willyumtx.) [...]

  10. [...] like to go back to the idea of the reader as director/ actor that I discussed in relation to dialogue. The important point about describing action is that it evokes the correct image and sensation in [...]

  11. [...] that have posted comments, and also the brave folks who have emailed the Ask Dennis hotline. This recent comment by Lost_Heretic leads me nicely on to a subject that’s been brewing in my head for a while – [...]

  12. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and it’s really interesting, in a bookish sort of way. I like to write fiction set in the Warhammer universes (or rather, I like to think of story arcs in the Warhammer universes, and sometimes I actually manage to get them down on paper) and your blog really touches upon some of the technical issues of writing that I deal with, often without me knowing it.

    This was almost completely off topic, but I hope you’ll forgive me and just accept a well deserved pat on the head for this blog.

    I read A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby, where the characters often used very convoluted slang, at least from a Danes perspective, and I wonder where you stand on that? It was annoying at first to guess what they meant, but after a while I “got” it, and it just deepened my relationship with the characters. Kind of like an inside joke or a bond. It is sort of the same with Orky speech, do you feel that their dialogue should be written normally or in the typical fashion? (Oi Boyz gets me mah bike) Or would that be catering too much to the “Show-don’t-tell police”?

    ;P

    Gav – Hi Chris, welcome aboard. The question of using dialect comes down to legibility and tone. As you say, it’s possible to pick up the idiosycracies of a dialect after some reading, in the case of A Long Way Down or Trainspotting. It’s up to the strength of the story and the skill of the writer whether that effort is rewarded. If the use of dialect adds to the voice of the narrator and characters, without too much detriment to the overall understanding of the story, then there’s no problem. On the other hand, if continually trying to decipher what characters are saying becomes too great an obstacle, the story can be lost by the reader.

    Orkspeak is an especially tricky one, since it’s an english representation of a very amorphous language. Do Orks speak the same when addressing each other? How much Orky dialogue is written in the way it is to make it understandable to the reader whilst in the Warhammer 40,000 universe is unintellible to other species? Orky speak, like dialect, is used to convey a sense of character, they way they talk tells us something about them as a race. Without getting into that too much (for the moment) I’d say that sustained Orky speech (over the length of a novel) could become either immensely distracting, or worse render the entire story comedic. On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to own Waaargh! The Orks from many years ago, there’s some great examples of extended narrative set entirely within Ork Kultur.

    It’s a bit of a cop out, but I’d say that with many other aspects of writing, use of dialectical speech is down to the individiual writer’s ability and I wouldn’t recommend except in cases where it genuinely adds to the presentation of the story.

  13. Ok thanks Gav. I don’t really have anything to add, but I didn’t want to appear rude by not responding.

    Looking forward to the next installment of Mech-Ham.

  14. I think there’s also an element of moderation required when writing dialect. Somebody above gave an example of Yorkshire accent — “Reet, ah’ll si’thee.” That sort of thing would get hugely annoying within a very short time. I’m not familiar with yorkshire, so I’d have had no idea that “Reet” meant “Right”, or “si’thee” meant “see thee” (or “see you”). Since I wouldn’t recognize Yorkshire dialect if it walked up and bit me, writing it out isn’t providing characterization — it’s just making that character opaque.

    I can deal with a few words of unknown slang — most of it is clear from context anyway. But there’s a point at which the dialogue becomes too dense to bother with and I start skipping to the end of the phrase instead of stopping to try to parse it. I recall reading a book about cowboys for high school english one year — every character spoke in dialect, and the book was an absolute /beating/ because of it. Half the time I had to say the lines aloud under my breath before I could figure out what they were actually saying.

    Given the above example, I wouldn’t be nearly as annoyed with something like, “Right, I’ll si’thee”. People who know british accents can mentally pronounce it “reet” without the author’s help, and now the phrase actually reads okay to those who don’t. You could go so far as “I’ll see thee”, even.

    Written dialogue has to be read, and I think that means dialect must be used with moderation. Suggest the accent — don’t transcribe it.

    Gav – This reminds me of something else, quite particular to Warhammer because the world makes wide use of English regional stereotypes in its racial identities. Dwarfs are based upon Northern miners, and some folks confuse their dialect (as written in English) with Scottish, particular our North American readers. The prime exception to this is Malakai Makaisson from the Gotrek and Felix novels. As the original author, Bill King, is Scottish, Malakai’s somewhat different dialect came very naturally. When Nathan Long took over the series (a US author), he very wisely consulted heavily on Malakai’s unique speech. This culminated in a special ‘Malakai edit’ performed by a resident Scot at Games Workshop (by the name of Alison Lister for those interested). The aim is not to have everything Malakai says translated into near-impentrable Scots dialect, but to sprinkle a flavour of approriate word use and phrases where it added character. This is akin to what you are saying regarding the importance of keeping the wider understanding of speech clear.

  15. It seems that if you were writing and wanted to note that the character spoke in a dialect, (maybe because it sets up the character, or because it explains that others won’t understand them), you might just say that from the other character’s perspective, writing what the person said, and then HOW he said it in dialect as an aside to note how hard it was to understand.

  16. I certainly see what you’re saying and agree for the most part, but I would argue that as an author you have slightly less freedom to let the dialogue be interpreted than a screenwriter or a playwright, because you’re one step closer to the intended audience. The screenplay/play will be interpreted by a director and actors with a view to the whole piece; they will know how the characters and plot play out and portray the scenes appropriately. The audience gets much less wriggle room to apply their own interpretation to the character.

    In the novel/short story, though, the reader, unlike the actors, doesn’t know what’s coming next, so there’s a chance any interpretation they pin on vaguely defined characters early on will turn out to be wrong, and when this is discovered it’s jarring. For instance, a character who in his first appearance seems quite well-spoken will make a certain impact on the reader, and if later he’s portrayed as in fact a bumbling idiot then they’ll be confused.

    I totally agree about line after line of text being littered with “er”s, “ah”s, “-right” and so on being unwieldy and silly. I’ve just finished “Azincourt” by Bernard Cornwell, in which one character seemed to end every line of dialogue with “-, Hook” (Hook being the main character’s name) and it was maddening. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for this sort of thing, though, and if these are a particular feature of someone’s speech, nowhere’s better for them than in the character’s first appearance, because then the first impression the reader gets will be the right one.

    Of course- and the quotation at the end of your text is spot on here- a skilled writer will be able to build character through dialogue without really thinking about it, and the readers won’t even notice that they’re picking it up… but I don’t think that necessarily means that it isn’t there.

  17. I agree and disagree. I use real people for my stories, BUT, I go directly, without the run-on sentences, the names at the end, and so on. I write their attitudes, actions, types of speech in, but in turn, this gives them a different tone of all, one the reader can enjoy. Seeing myself develop as a writer is a horrifying experience, and one I would never want to repeat. But, I think I have short stories down, and all I need to do is get good with novels.

    – Predator

  18. I think a story where people talk like real people has never been made. But I also think it is something a writer somewhere should aspire to do.

    Or you could listen to this dumbass and be just as succesful.

  19. Writing dialogue that’s total fakery is the easy way out. Just because you provided bad examples of how to write realistic dialogue doesn’t mean it can’t be done well. The Office is a successful TV show partly because it’s much more realistic speaking than pretty much anything else out there – when I first saw the British version of it, it took me a few minutes to figure out it wasn’t actually candid cameras in a real office.

    • Hi Daniel,

      I agree with you to a certain degree. If dialogue feels or scans as stilted or false, then it has failed. Of course it is possible to write realistic dialogue – earlier comments provide some good examples of authors to read. My point is that ‘realistic’ dialogue (particularly in prose) does not conflate with exactly copying the mannerisms of speech into text.

      The Office does a very good job of creating a documentary-like feel. While the script has a lot to do with that, just as much is down to the direction and the performances of the actors. The lines are delivered in a low-key way, and one of the ways it comes across as realistic is by using absence of dialogue – the awkward silences, the non-verbal communication between the characters (shared glances, body posture, reactions from characters in the background). Conveying that sort of information in prose can be difficult – too much information can overload the reader. I’ve been concentrating on including more non-verbal communication into my scenes in my last couple of books, hopefully with a light touch but enough to give a reader the same impression of realstic pace and interaction.

  20. Absolutely. I have a friend who tries to introduce realism in her dialogue, but doesn’t do it all the way, and it’s far more jarring than just not bothering with it. Her Texan character doesn’t speak with any sort of accent in my imagination, so when she types out his accent it weirds me out. Plus she writes lines like ‘what do ya think’, which had me stopped for a full minute because it was so jarring. Those who don’t enunciate words like ‘you’ probably don’t say ‘what do’ as distinct words.

    I also agree with the point that the author should write what he knows–I don’t mind seeing Harry Potter characters not having much of a dialect. I’m much more irritated by fanfiction writers trying to keep up dialects they don’t understand. The authors are more interested in saying ‘look how British this is!’ than pausing to make sure that it’s not just the crude characters using the word ‘bloody’ in the British version.

    I adore reading aloud, and I can’t stand written-out accents because I have to interrupt my natural flow of reading to pronounce everything how it’s written. I much prefer it when the narrative simply states that there is an accent present, so I can say, ‘just so you know, this guy has an Irish accent, but I’m going to carry on reading with my own accent.’

    The absolute worst is when I have to attempt to represent an accent I’ve never heard and I have no idea what the misspelling is supposed to mean. I might say one misspelled word how it was meant to be said, then interpret another incorrectly, and I end up wondering what the heck kind of accent would make you use both those incorrect pronunciations in conjunction. It’s a mess.

    That said, I don’t mind tics as a whole. I know a character who has a tendency to say ‘yeah?’ or ‘right?’. I think it adds a lot to the character–it adds to the ‘quirky’ aspect of him.

    The conscious vs. subconscious point was brilliant and really sums up the situational variance here, by the way.

    • I’ve been playing around with dialect a bit more in Crown of the Blood, particularly in trying to distinguish the speech of the nobility with that of the soldiers; and also with regard to introducing some elements of regionalisation. I think the idea of reader’s accent is an intriguing one, particularly when dealing with fantasy characters that don’t come froma real place. For me, the broad west country accent is the standard ‘peasant’ accent (possibly reinforced by the pastoral vibe of Tolkien’s hobbits), while I suspect the archetypical/ stereotypical surrogate accents for others would draw on different real-world examples. I suppose it’s a lot like Hollywood’s fondness for European villains (particularly Brits) because their accents are more distant and strange.

  21. [...] vagancia-emergencia: los diálogos. Si este blog nació un poco por la inspiración generada por esta entrada de Mechanical Hamster que nos presentó kurokotetsu, ¿qué mejor que escribir algo sobre cómo [...]

  22. I’m currently reading RANT by Chuck palahnuik and am entirely in opposition to this blog’s thesis. Reading a country bumkin’s testimonial isn’t impossible, you simply argue that no one is talented enough to write something that isn’t esoteric. I disagree as even television shows can have moments that are inscrutable for a wide swath of the population and are still popular.

    • As the comments after the post attest, it’s certainly not impossible to do. However, the advice I would give is still to avoid it unless the writer is very accomplished, but anyone with the confidence to give it a go will just ignore me anyway. It’s much harder to get right than wrong.

      • Agreed, but just because something is difficult, does not mean it is not worthwhile. Whatever happened to the old adage: That which is obtained with ease is worthless, while that which is obtained with great difficulty is invaluable.

  23. I’ll recommend to you a 9-minute movie with NO dialogue but which yet tells a compelling – humourous and tragic – story. It’s called Spider by Nash Edgerton

  24. Patrick O’Brien (of the aubrey/maturin series) is an excellent example of using dialect/dialogue subtly in order to convey a style of speaking without ramming it down your throat (see JK Rowling)

    • Good call. Certainly one to recommend to writers as an example of how to do this sort of thing well.

  25. I like to take this idea and turn it on its head: I strive to make my everyday speech as smooth and script-like as possible.

    This does mean there’s a pause before everything I say as I sort the words out in my head, but you can’t win them all.

  26. I don’t know. I find this notion hard to swallow myself. Perhaps, it comes down to history and context of writing. I look back at more historical works and find all kinds of (what do you call it?) “verbal garbage” that merely illustrate character’s personalities.

    If you look at The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky you see an entire story written around chaotic dialog. Dostoyevsky is famous for making his characters sound like they ought to–like real people would. A lot of people criticized him at the time–saying he was a crappy writer. Then, when his journals came out and they found out he’d done it intentionally (and they were all being uptight grammarians), suddenly the attitude changed.

    It really comes down to what you want to do–how do you want your characters to sound, act, etc.?

    Why limit your potential as a writer? Stories are meant to convey something–if a character drops into the diction and style of a real person, I don’t see how it could be a problem, unless the person simply is a poor writer.

    This seems to be one of those classic issues falling back upon the advice of one Ray Bradbury who’s advice is simple: Read great writers, don’t start writing novels, instead write lots of short stories, and keep writing again and again, and if you write a short story or two per week, you will end up with at least a few decent stories by the end of two or four years.

    This seems like standard advice for any writer: Don’t try something complex, until you can handle doing the simple alternative.

    However, if you are only stuck on the simple alternative, you will never progress beyond a certain point. Stories of the 18th, 19th, and (although fewer) 20th centuries that truly capture the realism of humans in some way become real.

    High action novels or films/tv shows probably are not the place for that–they are following a specific style and genre, just as Dostoyevsky was in his day and time. It seems more logical to write a story where whatever the characters say or do, it in some way performs a purpose–if the protagonist uses unusual linguistic patterns, let it be for a reason. Start simple, then try to get creative with the dialog and make it more real (if that works for the story).

    I’ve yet to hear a legitimate example that is written by a good author, that somehow operates badly. It seems as though writing authentic dialog is like inlay. It’s something that makes the finished piece grander, but depending on the artist, can make or break a piece. It’s like glazing a ceramic piece, or painting or inking a drawing. It’s another step in the writer’s arsenal that requires a great deal of practice and thought.

    You’re argument as presented only justifies why young writers should keep their dialog simple–so as to avoid wasting energies and ruining what would otherwise be decent stories. As they improve in their skills, they can begin to introduce flourishes and deeper levels of realism without negatively impacting the overall story.

    BTW, you’re misusing the idiom: “the exception proves the rule” does not mean what you have construed it to mean. Here ‘prove’ means ‘proving ground’ or ‘test’. In that case, “the exceptions prove the rule” is more accurately represented as “the exception tests the rule”. We see by example that there are many great authors who use “natural language” effectively to enhance their stories’ realism. This indicates my earlier point that it is not necessarily something one should avoid, merely, something one should gain experience with before attempting to use in a published work.

    You’re argument appears to exclude its use except by those artists of highest form. I would argue it is merely something one should practice with early on, but like many types of writing stylization, not attempt to use in a “published” work, until one really gets a handle on things. If you are writing for yourself, you should not limit yourself–practice in as many ways and forms as you can. Exercise your writing muscles. Don’t limit yourself. But, at the same time–don’t try to make something complex before you have mastered something simple.

    I feel like I’m discussing blacksmithing–you should always practice and better your art. You must first master the fundamentals (something very different from learning “the basics”), which give you the means to attempt more complex things–you will always practice the fundamentals for you shall never truly master them. As time progresses, you can include more and more advanced stylizations into your work. You may at first only make nails, but you can make decent nails. Then, as time progresses, you move into tool making, then knives and simple bladed weapons/tools, and eventually into further complex forms. Telling someone they shouldn’t make chain mail their first day is good advice, but telling them they should never make chain mail is very poor advice, indeed.

    Does this make sense?

    It’s all a matter of practice, training, discipline, and time. Why you won’t necessarily start out using realistic language–there may come a time you are ready to begin practicing it and perhaps introducing it–as in order to be considered the greatest of writers, you must come as close as possible to the genuine article.

  27. Reading your examples, I must say that I don’t know a lot of people who actually talk like that. Maybe, I just live in the States and where I’m from people speak differently, but it’s quite realistic for me to hear:

    “Yo! Chris! Can you do me a favor? Mind picking up that ball?”

    “Which one?”

    “That one… The Red one over there.” He points.

    “Oh, you mean this one?”

    “Yeh. That’s right. Bring it here, will yah?”

    Something like this feels natural to me. But, then some people’s speech is very convoluted (as you demonstrate). It’s probably a matter of learning to make things sound real without sounding too convoluted. Unless, of course, you want the character to sound like that. If you wanted a character to sound truly “valley” and be extremely annoying, you might push against the reader a bit, and thereby demonstrate awkwardness in the dialog.

    But, I’m just an petulant noob who spends too much time on the web. What do I know? :3

    • edit: a petulant noob… who apparently hasn’t learned to proofread. -eyeroll-

      • Thanks for the comments Christopher.

        My strongest piece of advice to people that are starting out as writers or want to be published is to finish something. Very few writers will produce their best work the first time they try, thus I would always encourage would-be authors to concentrate on character and narrative above all else, including more sophisticated mannerisms and styles.

        I accept that many writers can and have used dialect and a more realisticspeech patterns (more realistic, not completely), but I think it is more important to listen to the content of what people say than how they say it exactly. Bad dialogue is not unrealistic merely because of its patterns, but because it has characters saying things that real people would never say – mostly exposition but there are other sins too.

        As I say for all of my advice, anyone with the wit and daring can ignore it – should ignore it – but so many aspiring writers seem to get the basics wrong It is always better to learn to walk before running, otherwise one can end up never finishing at all.

        Thanks again.

  28. I must thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site.
    I’m hoping to view the same high-grade content from you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own, personal blog now ;)

  29. Reblogged this on Lily F. Lux and commented:
    A very interesting post that I found while looking for writing blogs and tips. I guess you could say that you shouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. :D

    Susannah


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