3 Common Mistakes.A Lesson by numbers17
Common mistakes people make when writing dialogue.
Is your dialogue stale or have others found it to be forced? Most of the time when someone reads bad dialogue they look at it and think to themselves, "Who actually says this?" At least that's what I think when I read it. Still, the time I have spent writing and getting criticism in my work I have found that my dialogue has been strong, but not without making serious mistakes. Here are some common mistakes people make when writing dialogue.
-It feels too forced
Some of the major problems with dialogue is that some of the lines feel forced. Lines exchanged back and forth between two or more characters (or one character if you are really creative) should serve not only to advance the story, but to give the reader a better understanding of what that character is like. If the dialogue is forced then the reader can understand this is an advancement of the story, but really can't grasp who the character is and what they are feeling. Forced dialogue reads like bland and blunt statements that look as if it could go more into the descriptive phase of the writing process.
Here is an example. Setup: Mary and Mark are going to the store to buy apples.
"Mary do you know where this store is so we can buy some apples?"
"I do not know Mark. Do you have a map so we can find the store to buy some apples for Mom's pie?"
Now what I wrote is a bit to the extreme, but you can tell that is forced. Try rewriting these lines yourself and see what kind of lines you can get out of this. Expand on it as well.
If you are writing a very fictionalized world this can make the process more difficult as you may be tempted to try to explain what is going on or the world itself through dialogue. This not only leads to cases of forced dialogue, but...
-Too much, too soon.
Vonnegut would have you describe as much as possible as soon as possible. His belief is that the reader will have to trudge through the swamp of hard explanation before you would get to the meat of the story. I, on the other hand, believe while this may be useful information it may also bore the hell out of your reader.
Some writers may attempt to explain things, especially in fantasy and sci-fi works, in dialogue. This is bad. Because the words coming out of the character's may feel forced and different from other times that they are speaking. Unless you have a blank character, i.e. a character that has no idea what is going on in this world or the event, it's best to avoid this. You have to assume that the characters already know everything anyway and they don't need to describe something that another character already knows. Put it in the description instead. Keep it short and get to the point about it. If you are clever enough you won't need go into the history of whatever you are describing. Just say what it is, what it does and what the person is doing with it and you are good to go. Same goes if you are talking about characters as well.
Make sure you flesh it out as well. The story is moving along as the thing or person is being described. Don't pause it and put a large blocked statement about the event, person or thing. I can provide details if someone wants them.
This irritates me. Dialogue that no one would really say. It sounds good in YOUR head, but to the reader they have question marks forming above their head as they read. It's really hard to pin point dialogue that is unnatural, but when you see it you know what it is. It may be a combination of the two that I explained above. Trying to advance the plot and describe something at the same time. This will cause the writer to fall into a trap of dialogue that just sounds silly.
I remember reading a short story a while back where a female character said, "I can't believe you got me, an 18 year old girl, pregnant!" I was pretty taken aback by that line to the point of obsession. It was bad. It was bland, blunt and just very unnatural. I pictured myself sitting in the audience section watching a play. A woman actor is standing there reading a bad line and her acting was as bad as a high school play production.
To avoid this, and this sounds silly, read your dialogue out loud. To really drive it home try to act out your characters as well. I do this and it keeps me entertained as I trudge through my fiction looking for mistakes. Usually by reading it out loud I realize that I just said something that sounded silly and promptly change it so it sounds more like my character is speaking.
Thanks for stopping by. Next week I'll teach you simple steps to make your dialogue stronger.
Til' next time!
Added on December 14, 2010
Last Updated on December 14, 2010