A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blog Chain - Can We Talk?

This latest edition of the blog chain is Kate's fault. So go to her blog and blame her. Just kidding, Kate. You always have cool questions, and this one is no different.

The question she poses to those of us working the chain is the following:

Do you enjoy writing dialogue? Do you use a lot of dialogue in your writing (for our purposes "a lot" will be defined as more than a smidge and yet not so much that the quotes key on your computer is completely worn out.)? Do you have example(s) of dialogue you especially enjoyed from something you've read? Do you have example(s) of dialogue from your own writing? What about these examples makes them special?

Okay, she is actually asking a bunch of questions, but it's all on one subject - dialogue. So lets talk, shall we?

When I first read this subject, I was thinking how much fun it would be to explore this. Then as I began to ask myself these questions, I realized something. I really do not like dialogue. I've never enjoyed creating dialogue, probably because it just doesn't seem to come naturally.

When I first began writing dialogue, I would constantly make that terrible mistake - trying to find another word for "said". For example:

"That was exactly what I wanted you to think", Derek breathed.

"No", Sheila screamed.

"Yes" Derek exclaimed. "And now you will suffer for it".

Yeah, terrible dialogue. Thankfully I learned, and I try not to make that mistake these days.

As far as an example of dialogue I have liked, I take you to the words of J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit. The following scene is when the trolls are discussing how they want to cook their newly captured dwarves.

"No good roasting 'em now, it'd take all night," said a voice. Bert thought it was William's.

"Don't start the argument all over again, Bill," he said, "or it will take all night."

"Who's a-arguing?" said William, who thought it was Bert that had spoken.

"You are," said Bert.

"You're a liar," said William; and so the argument began all over again.

I like this section of dialogue especially because of a few things. There's a hidden speaker here, but Bert and William don't figure that out. This speaks to their apparent lack of intellect, giving us a glimpse into their character. It also speaks to the talents of the hidden speaker, who turns out to be Gandalf the wizard.

Okay, it was probably too easy to pick something from Tolkien, but he's about the only author I could remember off the top of my head. I do pay attention to dialogue more these days, so maybe the next time this comes around, I'll have a better example.

As for my own writing, I'll give you a glimpse into my current WiP. In this scene, the main character Trevor just got grilled by his boss. He is not himself, and his friend Brent notices.

“Trevor, you listening? Man, you were this close to serious trouble. What the heck has gotten into you?”

“Nothing Brent”, Trevor shook his head. “I just had a bad night, didn’t get much sleep. I wasn’t paying attention and I took a wrong turn, that’s all.” He tried to smile at his friend, “Thanks for trying anyway.” How the hell was he going to get two specimens done in one day?

“It’s okay. Boy, Stein really has it in for you. Sure, he’s not great under any circumstances, but he seems to enjoy watching you squirm.” Giggles erupted from Brent’s mouth, smothered only barely by his meaty palm.

“Thanks a lot, pal.” Trevor tossed Brent a glare, more brutal than he intended.

“I’m just kidding, Trev. Really. Don’t be mad.”

I hope I am improving in my use of dialogue, but I honestly can't say if it's good enough. What I do like about this example is that I can feel their character coming through. I can visualize what is going on here, see these two having this conversation. I at least feel that I'm on the right track, but I do still feel unsteady when it comes to dialogue.

One thing I can say is that I am paying attention to everyone else on the chain with these questions. While it's been difficult to answer these, I have to thank Kate because I have the opportunity to learn a great deal from my fellow blog chainers.

Now that I've done my best with this one, head on over to Kat's blog to see what she has to say. If you haven't read my predecessor Sandra's answer, you need to go check that out too.


Christine Fonseca said...

Nice post Eric...I am not that great with dialogue either (though my crit partners have helped A LOT). It can be a tough one.

Sandra said...

I like your examples!

Michelle H. said...

Good examples! I think the Tolkien one is perfect to talk about in showing you can do more with dialogue than fill in empty space between descriptive paragraphs or carry the entire plot along. Every element of writing should have its own purpose within the novel.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I don't think you can ever go wrong with Tolkien. One of the ways that I learned dialog was taught to me by a creative writing teacher about a decade ago. Go sit in a mall. The food court if possible. Do it when it's busy. And then listen to people talk. You don't have to recreate exactly what they say--no one wants to read all the "ums" and "uhs" but that advice served me better than anything else regarding dialog.

Julie Dao said...

Great example! Dialogue is something that most writers need to pay attention to, I think. I have a tendency to be too wordy and put in unnecessary dialogue. I liked "The Hobbit" but it took me years to finally finish all of the LOTR books. Tolkien's descriptions were very heavy but the dialogue is fantastic, you're right.

Eric said...

Christine - well, I'm hoping this short story class I'm starting will help me get better with it too. Glad I'm not the only one.

Sandra - Thanks. I look forward to seeing what you do with this one.

Michelle - So says the woman who is amazing with dialogue. May I someday be able to come anywhere close to your ability.

Shaun - That's a great idea. I'm very much a people watcher by nature, though these days I have to be careful. White male eyeballing people, you know they'll peg me as a stalker or a convicted sex offender.

Julie - As much as I LOVE Tolkien's books, I agree with you about his descriptions. But I do like what he does with dialogue. Thanks for stopping by.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Despite my hate of LOTR causing me to hate all things Tolkien as well, I have to admit I enjoyed that example from The Hobbit. I liked your example as well. It's interesting to hear someone say that don't like writing dialogue - when I just love it so much, but maybe that is my acting background talking.

Mandy said...

Love Tolkien! Great example of dialog!

As for your sample... Eric, what are talking about?!?! You write great dialog! Seriously, it didn't feel stilted, it flowed and it conveyed an image of two guys having an easy goin' conversation. Good job!

Sarah Bromley said...

Very nice examples of dialogue! You do a great job with replacing the "he said" type tags with action, and the words seemed to flow naturally. Dialogue is tricky, true, but I generally go with the rule that--if you can't see yourself saying, then your characters probably shouldn't say it either 'cause then it won't be natural.

B.J. Anderson said...

You know what they say: practice makes perfect! I think you're well on your way. Great dialogue and the sample from The Hobbit made me want to dig out my copy and give it another read. I, too, used to try and find fun ways of saying said. Yeah, not so fun when I found out that was kind of a no-no. Good post!

Michelle McLean said...

ahhh I was really bad with the jazzed up dialogue tags....I've learned to refrain :D Mostly ;-D Great post!

Cole Gibsen said...

I was really bad with dialogue tags, too. Now, it's either "said" or I try my hand at spit fire dialogue and leave them off all together.

Nice job!