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  • Good dialogue
    by helen black at 13:46 on 04 October 2013
    What do you gutys thinks makes 'good dialogue' in fiction?

    And what makes bad dialogue?

    Examples of authors who did it well (or not) would be highly appreciated.

    HB x
  • Re: Good dialogue
    by Anna Reynolds at 16:26 on 04 October 2013
    Well, I would say that Anne Enright's characters have some greatly lovely dialogue, as do Nuala O'Faolain's.... and the dialogue in Charlotte Mendelson's Almost English was pretty delightful, especially the elderly Hungarian ladies, and the posh teens talking to their equally posh parents- funny and excruciatingly believable and awkward, knowing, etc. The dialogue in Londonstani worked for me, but I know not everyone loved it.
  • Re: Good dialogue
    by EmmaD at 11:17 on 05 October 2013
    I think the obvious "bad" is simply when it doesn't evoke (not reproduce - if you record people it's quite different) how people speak - the wrong language, the syntax not convincing as spoken language.

    Then there's when the writer's using dialogue to dump info or engineer a confrontation which actually the story-structure hasn't earned - even if they catch the tone of the spoken language, it doesn't convince at the storytelling level, but we may feel that as unconvincing dialogue.

    And then, as Anna's examples suggest, there's a further kind of "good", beyond just reading/sounding like real speech, which is about evoking particular characters, in the way their linguistic habits are part of their wider character. Some of that is age/background, but some of that is who they actually are: you could have two siblings who are virtually identical in ethnicity/region/gender/generation/job, and they could shape the same kinds of ideas in very different ways, if they as individuals had very different characters.

    For that, you want to be using it to differentiate characters one from another. Radio producers and the like get out a ruler and use it to cover up the names of the characters: if you can't tell who speaks which speeches just by the voice, then it's not good dialogue. Your nervous, talkative sister sounds more uncertain, more un-confident up against her calm, confident monosyllabic one...
  • Re: Good dialogue
    by debac at 11:31 on 05 October 2013
    Good dialogue is when it apes real speech but is more concise, less meandery, and more interesting than real conversation. Bad dialogue is when it's unrealistic, or so realistic that it's full of the umms and ahhs and disjointedness we really use when we speak.


    And obviously everything Emma said too! Distinctive voices etc!

    Edited by debac at 11:32:00 on 05 October 2013
  • Re: Good dialogue
    by Astrea at 18:16 on 05 October 2013
    Agree with both Emma and Debbie.

    It has to be believable, in that I can imagine the character speaking the lines aloud. if I can't 'hear' the character, if it seems unlikely, or stilted, or contrived, then it just doesn't work for me.

    If you're looking for a (low-brow, but that's me) crime-fic writer, I think Stuart MacBride is excellent.
  • Re: Good dialogue
    by SandraD at 20:23 on 05 October 2013
    One test of how effective dialogue is to avoid/omit all adverbs and see if the meaning/intent still comes over.
    Christopher Brookmyre's dialogue is superb.
  • Re: Good dialogue
    by Terry Edge at 11:01 on 06 October 2013
    Hey, hey, come on - we're writers! Let's put up our own petards, here.

    Here's a story of mine that starts with dialogue which, I know, is not always a sensible thing to do.

    What I was trying to do with the opening section was convey something about the nature of each character, and the dynamics of their relationship.

    Feel free to say if it works or doesn't for you:



    Edited by Terry Edge at 11:01:00 on 06 October 2013
  • Re: Good dialogue
    by EmmaD at 11:49 on 06 October 2013
    avoid/omit all adverbs

    In the dialogue itself? Interesting.

    Or are you thinking of adverbs tagged onto the speech tag? It's sort-of true, if you're thinking of the "explaining" sort of adverb. But if it's about the sound of the dialogue - "she whispered loudly" - then that's different.
  • Re: Good dialogue
    by SandraD at 16:36 on 07 October 2013
    Or are you thinking of adverbs tagged onto the speech tag ... the 'explaining' adverb

    This is more what I was meaning - and I was only meaning remove them as a temporary thing to test the strength of the dialogue, not advocating rules! And this was prompted because I recently read a novel which was littered with these, presumably to bolster dialogue the writer wasn't confident about.