Monday, October 1, 2018

Dialogue Issues? Read It Out Loud

I started a book Saturday night.  As you know from Friday's post, I'd been looking for a suspense to read.  I thought I found one.  The premise was awesome, the few reviews it had were mostly five-star, and the live look in was pretty good, so I laid down my $2.99. 

I didn't 'look in' far enough.  When I started the book, everything was fine.  Then I got farther in where there was actual dialogue.  OMG, so bad. 

Ugh, I tried to recreate a sample of the bad dialogue this morning, but I couldn't do it.  It was so wooden, my brain was revolting against it.  And I refuse to copy the exact verbiage here.  Just trust me on it when I say it was bad.

Do the world a favor when you're writing dialogue, folks.  Read it out loud.  You should be able to hear whether it's the way people actually talk.  Think about conversations you've had.  And if you're a hermit, go somewhere public and listen to other people until you have an idea of how a conversation should flow.  Restaurants and coffee shops are awesome for this. 

Once you've done this, go back and read through the dialogue you've written.  Does it sound natural? 

Personally, I write a lot of my stuff - including this blog - in a conversational tone.  So I've got a lot of practice.  Plus, my thought processes are like a running conversation in my head.  And I still make mistakes.  That's what an editor is for.  She catches me when I've written crappy dialogue. 

And yes, there may be a time when you have a character who actually is wooden.  It could add flavor to the scene.  But they can't all be wooden.  And the wooden character cannot be your MC.  Bleh.

The dialogue had other flaws, as well.  I'm pretty sure the author didn't have a firm grasp on using the Enter key between sentences in the dialogue.  One character talks and then the other character talks and then the first character talks... all in one paragraph.  "Sort of like this," said Mary. "And it was really bad," said John. "But worse than this." "I can see what you mean," said Mary. "When it all jams together it's kind of hard to tell who's talking." "Exactly."

Gah.  Typing that hurt my brain.  Almost as much as reading it probably hurt yours.

Dialogue shouldn't be that hard - to write or to read.  Like I said, the key to it is reading it out loud.  And if you do and you're still not sure, read it out loud to another human being.  If at any point you find yourself thinking 'People don't talk that way', then you need to change it.

Now, you might find yourself wanting to argue, saying 'but I write Fantasy' or SF or historical or whatever.  The words of your world may be different, but the conversational flow should probably be about the same.  Because no matter what world you're writing, your readers are HERE.  Their brains will tell them whether the people of Ogreville or Epsilon Twelve or Jolly Ol' England are speaking naturally or coming off as wooden.  You don't want readers to decide your dialogue isn't worth slogging through.  Right?

Just my opinion, of course.  I know I put that book down and I won't be buying any more of that author's novels.  Which is really too bad.  Again, they all sound interesting, but I can't afford to waste any more of my money on the chance he fixed the problem in the other two.  (And this was his second book.  I can't imagine how bad his first book was.)

Do you read your dialogue out loud?  I used to do it all the time. Now, I only do it if I'm reading over a scene and it doesn't feel right.  Nine times out of ten, it doesn't feel right because the dialogue is off. 

But maybe that's just me.  What do you think?


  1. Oh. Dear. Writing. Gods. I think my eyes are bleeding and I know my brain threw up in its mouth a little. ;) I hope you returned the book and got a refund!

    I once had an editor tell me that Sinjen's dialogue was too stilted. I reminded her that he was an 800 year-old vampire who'd once been a Templar Knight, and was currently a professor of ancient history at the University of Chicago. OF COURSE he was stilted! Anyway, I always read my diaglogue out loud during the editing process. I read the whole book out loud. It helps me breaks in rhythm, weird word placement, and whether the dialogue flows. Since I have some acting in my background, I also read the dialogue in character. It helps. :)

    Great topic today! Oh, and your dialogue rocks. Just sayin'... :D

    1. Nah. I've never returned a book. You lays down your money and you takes your chances. :shrug: It tends to make me really careful about what books I pay for.

      ROFL, silly editor. I think Sinjen's dialogue is perfect for him. It makes it stand out from other characters. And of course you read your dialogue out loud. Because you rock. And so does your dialogue.