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Thread: Pure dialogue and nothing but. Any tips?

  1. #1
    Flogging a World of Dead Horses Scott Kaelen's Avatar
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    May 2011
    United Kingdom

    Question Pure dialogue and nothing but. Any tips?

    This morning I put my haystack of jumbled ideas for my first novel to the side and bashed out a quick short based loosely on the multiverse I'm creating.
    The short is 1300 words and is the last conversation in a universe on the crux of death. The conversation is between the universe itself (the original universe, the one that spawned the first secondary universes that gave rise to the multiverse), and the thing which lives in the folds between universes.
    The entire short is pure dialogue, with nary a 'he said' in sight.

    In retrospect, the short is written in abstract, I think, in that both sides of the conversation are conducted by things which have neither consciousness nor voice. I've also been a bit ironic with some of the dialogue.

    I've read it back to myself three times, changing it slightly each time. My questions are:
    What tips do you have for writing pure dialogue?
    Are there certain 'rules' to keep in mind?
    What are the pitfalls of giving a metaphorical 'voice' to a non-sentient entity or thing?

  2. #2
    Honestly, I think 1300 words of pure dialogue would be very boring to read. At the beginning, the reader needs to be hooked with something exciting going on in the current scene. I'd get right to characters in conflict. Make something happen, not just people (or entities) sitting around talking. The reader does not yet care about your characters (entities?) or world so he won't want to hear them talk about it. That's like sitting there with strangers while they go on about people and things from the past that don't include you. Compare that with showing up and they take you to a party or get in a fight or introduce you to a beautiful girl. Monologue/dialogue is easier to write but it's not easier to read. You know, show, don't tell. JMHO, hope it helps.

  3. #3
    storm central stormie's Avatar
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    Feb 2005
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    You stole my idea! (Only kidding. )

    I did that about two months ago, but my short is only about 700 words of just dialogue. You can hook the reader without tags or description. Just make sure every sentence moves the story along.

    Whether it sells is another story (no pun intended) but I've had shorts that are "written differently," such as characters with no names, pubbed in literary mags.

    I just felt this one story needed to be told w/ just dialogue; it's the way it came out as I typed.

  4. #4
    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    Sep 2010
    In MA, USA, across from a 17th century cemetery
    Go for it. I liken it to this...

    Sitting in a restaurant, waiting for my friends to arrive. I order a drink and read the menu, realizing I am a full hour early. No wonder they aren't here yet.

    Then I tune into an enigmatic conversation at the next table. I haven't a clue who they are, or what they are talking about: a love affair, a failed business venture, bringing their dog to the vet? But it's fascinating! All I hear is her, and him; and sounds of a spoon in a coffee cup; she clears her throat when he speaks; he sighs twice as she does. He interrupts her several times; she finally gets angry and says, let me speak. Then he is silent as she goes on about something which didn't work and should have and why wasn't he there when she needed help with something called 'Mod,' or 'Maude.'

    Needless to say, I sat, drank and listen, transfixed. It can be done in all dialogue and it can be done brilliantly.

    Again, go for it.
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  5. #5
    I think as long as you get the basic who, what, when, where and why of the conflict, pure dialogue in a short can work. I'd just be weary of characters narrating their stage directions--it can come off as kitschy. But, as your characters have no stage, I can't see why they'd have directions. So no problems there, right?

    Do use narration tags, though. Unless, via voice, you can make the two characters 100% distinguishable from one another, the eye will need a reminder as to who is speaking now and again.

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  6. #6
    Trigger-Happy Pyromaniac Writer BRDurkin's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
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    I would second what MJNL said. If you're not going to use dialogue tags, make sure the voices are very distinct, so there is no mistake as to who/what is talking. Otherwise, it would be very easy to get lost.
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  7. #7
    Mushroom Polenth's Avatar
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    When making a voice for something abstract, people often fall into making them sound formal and boring. So make sure they have a personality, as that's what will carry the dialogue. Don't rely on the idea to keep people reading.
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  8. #8
    Flogging a World of Dead Horses Scott Kaelen's Avatar
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    Good tips, and thankyou!
    The first few lines of the dialogue began with a formal tone as the 'characters' met one another, but gradually became more informal as the two 'characters' became accustomed to each other.
    I found it quite difficult, because, in my head, I was wanting to write a 'conversation' in chatty and mildly humorous exposition of how my multiverse began, by describing the cosmic events of the end of the previous multiverse which led up to the death of the old and the rebirth (with a twist) of the new.
    I even threw in a 'joke' about the 'twelfth' dimension. My problem throughout was: How do my 'characters' know all this information? To which I replied (to myself): They don't. But then, let's face it, the universe doesn't usually have a conversation with nonspace either, right?
    Anyway, having read it through again today I honestly think it's nothing more than a small pile of drivel hidden behind a rather fantastic idea. It will require much more work and insight before it's any good. More than likely I'll end up adding dialogue tags, and maybe give it a good dose of third-person narration, too. Still, it was good for practice.

  9. #9
    Always Fresh AW Moderator zanzjan's Avatar
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    Feb 2010
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    Quote Originally Posted by stormie View Post
    I did that about two months ago, but my short is only about 700 words of just dialogue. You can hook the reader without tags or description. Just make sure every sentence moves the story along.

    Whether it sells is another story (no pun intended)
    FWIW, I once sold a 6k story that was entirely one side of a conversation.

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  10. #10
    figuring it all out Eldrich's Avatar
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    Jun 2011
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    I have a two part reply. First of all, I also recently had a burst of an idea that came out only in dialogue. Since it was an unusual burst of ideas, I kept going until it was done. I have personally put it aside to work on other things, but I just thought it was interesting that you had this thread when the exact same thing happened to me, though the plot in no way resembles yours.

    Secondly, your idea reminded me of a story by Italo Calvino, called 'A Sign in Space' which I read in an anthology called The World Treasury of Science Fiction edited by David Hartwell. It is similar not in that it is a dialogue between two entities, or that it is about the end of the universe. But it is an abstract story that is told through a single narrator that is cosmic in scale. And it is extremely effective. This story stayed with me for many years, in fact, only upon reading your post I literally dug it out of my basement and re-read it after probably 5 years and it's still as absolutely sublime as the first time I read it. So if you're interested in some inspiration about how this type of abstract story can be done effectively, I highly recommend you check it out.
    Last edited by Eldrich; 06-01-2011 at 06:35 AM.

  11. #11
    Flogging a World of Dead Horses Scott Kaelen's Avatar
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    May 2011
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    Thanks Eldritch, I'll definitely check Italo Calvino's story out, if I can locate it. Thanks for the tip



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