3 Common Mistakes.

3 Common Mistakes.

A Lesson by numbers17
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Common mistakes people make when writing dialogue.

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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. 


And finally


-Unnatural Dialogue


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. 


Like I said, it is really hard to pin point these moments of unnatural dialogue, but, trust me, you will see it when it happens.


Thanks for stopping by. Next week I'll teach you simple steps to make your dialogue stronger. 


Til' next time!



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Comments

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Posted 3 Years Ago


this is a real help when I'm trying to improve my dialogue! Tankoo :P

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Posted 4 Years Ago


Thank you very much for writing this!

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Posted 4 Years Ago


I've just started writing dialogue so could you do one on how to format dialogue carrectly??

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Posted 4 Years Ago


how do I get started in this course?

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Posted 4 Years Ago


I'm really bad with dialogue. okay not like so horrible that you would cry or be really really worried about how i thought that was anywhere near a good convo... but what i write just sounds awkward sometimes. This has been really helpful for me tho:) so thanx<3

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Posted 4 Years Ago


if you are serious about being an author ignoring your english teacher is a must.
"I can't believe you got me, an 18 year old girl, pregnant!"
that to them is amazing trust me they hate my writing

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Posted 5 Years Ago


Good advice. I don't think it sounds silly to read the dialogue aloud. I do this and it has forced me to change lines because they sound unnatural.

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Posted 5 Years Ago


It's not the details themselves that are better avoided; it's using clumsy dialogue to work those details into the story.

Some authors can make it work anyway when characters tell each other about the science or history or whatever. Gregory Benford is good at this, but his characters tend to be scientists, and he puts them in situations where it makes sense for them to be explaining things, and he makes the dialogue sound natural even when they're talking about quantum physics or whatever. (Every sci-fi writer should practice - in real life - having conversations about the kinds of science they have in their stories.)

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Posted 5 Years Ago


On another note some reader actually enjoy the detailed technical aspects of sci-fi. So, really, it just depends on your audience.

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Posted 5 Years Ago


The 'would someone really say this?' test doesn't always work. I've been told that my own dialogue - things I say in real life - is unrealistic: No one, apparently, uses the word 'ubiquitous,' even for humorous effect... Too bad, really; it's a funny word.

Good that you mentioned forced dialogue in sci-fi - the infamous "As you know, Bob..." method of explaining. I see this a lot. Some readers seem to want it, too, because they don't want to wait a chapter or two for the details of some techno-whatever (if it even matters).


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