Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dialog Pitfalls

Dialog pitfalls – William G. Tapply in Elements of Mystery Fiction.
  • Windbags—avoid rambling monologues, long speeches, and one-sided lectures.
  • Crowded scenes—as a practical matter, dialogue scenes with more than two participants are cumbersome for the writer and confusing for the reader.
  • Exposition through dialog—in real life, people do not tell each other what they both already know.
  • Bores—In real life, most conversations we overhear—or engage in ourselves— are aimless and mundane. The writer’s challenge is to create dialog that seems true-to-life but is never boring.
  • Dialog for its own sake—trying to write clever of amusing dialogue for its own sake is self-indulgent.
  • Dialect—because it requires readers to “translate” it, dialogue heavy with dialect is distracting.
  • Four-letter words—writers must choose between the rock of authenticity and the hard place of automatic elimination of sensitive or conservative readers from their fan clubs.
Many writers find dialog to be one of the hardest writing tasks. There are a few writers whose dialog is a pleasure to read. I wonder if they find dialog difficult to write.

I wrote a post earlier this month about dialect and mentioned Robert B. Parker as one of my favorites when it comes to dialog. He avoids most of the pitfalls mentioned in today's quote. Many of his conversations involve three people, but he gives each character distinct traits that make it easy for the reader to follow the dialog without getting confused. His character Hawk speaks in dialect, but I've never found it distracting. Of course, Mr. Parker's been working at his craft for a number of years. Perhaps his dialog was as poor as some of mine when he started out.

I wrote a story using nothing but dialog. It was published by the Short Humour Site. I tried writing another all-dialog story last week to submit to a contest. I thought I did a good job showing the reader certain aspects of the story, but found other information impossible to write without the text sounding like exposition. I'm going to work on it some more, but I'll abandon the dialog-only idea if I don't like the result.

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