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Thread: Stilted Dialogue? What does this mean?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW Arcadia Divine's Avatar
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    Stilted Dialogue? What does this mean?

    I couldn't find an answer for this either, but what does it mean when someone says the dialogue was stilted? I'm unfamiliar with what stilted means in relation to dialogue. Could someone give me an example of stilted dialogue?
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    My sarcasm got the better of me. Midian's Avatar
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    practical experience, FTW Arcadia Divine's Avatar
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    Thank you.
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    practical experience, FTW totopink's Avatar
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    Think of it like trying to squeeze in too much information into a characters dialogue. It feels formal and unnatural and therefore doesn't flow when you read it.

    Example:

    Stilted:
    "I went to the dry cleaners to pick up that cream cashmere sweater that you accidentally spilt rosé wine on last weekend. They informed me that, despite their best efforts, they could not get the stain out."

    Normal:
    "I went by the dry cleaners to collect that cream sweater you spilt wine on, but they said they couldn't get the stain out."

  5. #5
    Benefactor Member Nymtoc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by totopink View Post
    Think of it like trying to squeeze in too much information into a characters dialogue. It feels formal and unnatural and therefore doesn't flow when you read it.

    Example:

    Stilted:
    "I went to the dry cleaners to pick up that cream cashmere sweater that you accidentally spilt rosé wine on last weekend. They informed me that, despite their best efforts, they could not get the stain out."

    Normal:
    "I went by the dry cleaners to collect that cream sweater you spilt wine on, but they said they couldn't get the stain out."
    Even more natural:

    "I went to the cleaners to pick up that sweater."
    "What sweater?"
    "The cashmere one you spilled wine on."
    "So you got it?"
    "Yeah, but they said they couldn't get the stain out."

    "The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they've found it.” ~ Terry Pratchett

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arcadia Divine View Post
    I couldn't find an answer for this either, but what does it mean when someone says the dialogue was stilted? I'm unfamiliar with what stilted means in relation to dialogue. Could someone give me an example of stilted dialogue?
    I could probably invent one, but it would come across as "stilted". What the term basically means is forced, unnatural, artificial.

    It happens when a writer is trying tooooooo hard to be "writerly", or when a writer is trying to force information down the throat of the reader through dialogue among characters.

    caw

  7. #7
    Needs More Hands.... Fallen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    I could probably invent one, but it would come across as "stilted". What the term basically means is forced, unnatural, artificial.
    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    It happens when a writer is trying tooooooo hard to be "writerly", or when a writer is trying to force information down the throat of the reader through dialogue among characters.
    caw


    This.

    Stilted dialogue has no character or natural flow. Here are just a few of the natural things that give it that natural flow and character in conversation:

    1 Dialogue is interactive:

    'I can't do it.'
    'Can't do what?' (copying)

    'You've got some news, don't you?' (eliciting a response)
    'Yeah.'

    'Hey, come here.' (using attention grabbers)
    'What?'

    'Mike, what's up?' (using vocatives)

    2 dialogue express stance, or feelings, attitudes, evaluations of the speaker:

    'Okay, let's do some cleaning' is showing a less-frightening, more polite speaker than 'Get some cleaning done. Now.'

    3 dialogue in fiction isn't quite the same as natural dialogue, you have a little longer to 'think' over what a person is going to say, but you can choose language that shows it's been produced 'on the spot' just like authentic conversation:

    "Come on. We're gonna have to go. I can't be late.' (You have short sentences, contraction (we're etc) and slang choices (gonna))

    4 dialogue can show a shared context

    'Pass me that cup.'
    'This one here?'

    All these help keep dialogue natural. There are hundres of others, but they're the basics. Take them away, you have 'stilted' writing.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW Mark Moore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    It happens when a writer is trying tooooooo hard to be "writerly", or when a writer is trying to force information down the throat of the reader through dialogue among characters.
    Archie Comics is particularly guilty of this, often starting a story with the characters discussing among themselves why they're at a certain place; they should logically already know.
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    Retired Illuminatus dangerousbill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arcadia Divine View Post
    I couldn't find an answer for this either, but what does it mean when someone says the dialogue was stilted? I'm unfamiliar with what stilted means in relation to dialogue. Could someone give me an example of stilted dialogue?
    It's not natural.

    "So, Roger, I see that you are coming in the door."

    "Yes, indeed, Michael. And you are sitting at your desk, apparently working on your income taxes."

    "Must you always address me by name every time you speak, Roger?"

    "No, Michael, it might be nicer if we just omitted first names."

    "But Roger, our readers might forget whose turn it is to talk."
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  10. #10
    I agree with dangeroudbill. I had this problem the first time I wrote my book. All of my dialogues are too formal. Also, they are long and give out many useless information. Now I kinda get a grip of it, still need time to practice tho.

    But yes, just like everyone said, natural dialogue should be

    -informal, depend on the situation
    -short, straight to the point, cut down chit chat
    -easy to understand

    if you consider those three points when writing, I think you are at least 70% there, the rest is just practice and practice.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Arcadia Divine's Avatar
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    Now that I have a better understanding of what stilted dialogue means, I can see it in my own writing. Thanks
    Everything bound to life dies eventually.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW areteus's Avatar
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    I think a big mistake a lot of people make is thinking that you have to use correct grammar in dialogue... you don't, most people don't speak like that unless you are speaking RP (which no one does these days except the Queen...).

    You see it a lot in fantasy writing where there is an assumption that RP speaking is 'more archaic' and therefore fits a fantasy setting when really it is nothing of the sort (RP is more of an early 20th century thing, each period has its own style of speech).

    A good trick I was taught was to try to read any dialogue you write out loud. If it sounds awkward when you say it then it needs to be changed. You should also listen to others speak and pay attention to speech patterns, tone, inflection and so on as well as considering dialect and linguistic differences.

  13. #13
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    Learned a lot while reading this... thanks for the links Midian!


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  14. #14
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dangerousbill View Post
    It's not natural.

    "So, Roger, I see that you are coming in the door."

    "Yes, indeed, Michael. And you are sitting at your desk, apparently working on your income taxes."

    "Must you always address me by name every time you speak, Roger?"

    "No, Michael, it might be nicer if we just omitted first names."

    "But Roger, our readers might forget whose turn it is to talk."
    This actually a perfect example. I read a book once by a best selling author that used names in practically every piece of dialogue. I wanted to throw the book across the room, but I didn't. I finished it because the story itself was good and I wanted to know how it ended.
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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW Architectus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nymtoc View Post
    Even more natural:

    "I went to the cleaners to pick up that sweater."
    "What sweater?"
    "The cashmere one you spilled wine on."
    "So you got it?"
    "Yeah, but they said they couldn't get the stain out."
    Or

    "Yo, I picked up your lame-ass sweater." He tossed the sweater at her.
    Holding it, she said, "They didn't get the stain out."
    "Not my problem."
    Last edited by Architectus; 04-04-2012 at 12:20 PM.

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW Architectus's Avatar
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    I think the main problem with dialog is writers try to tell us too much information within it. We don't need to characters to spell things out for us. Subtext is good.

    Check this out.

    "Hey, it's time to go."
    "He's just gonna prescribe me antibiotics again."
    "You're not doing this again. You're going."

    That example is not stilted, but this next one is slightly.

    "Hey, it's time to go."
    "I don't wanna. The doc is just going to prescribe me antibiotics again."
    "Whatever, you're always making excuses."

    The next is very stilted.

    "It is time to go see Dr. Willis."
    "I do not want to, Mom. That doctor is just going to presribe me antibiotics again."
    "That's enough excuses from you, Son. Now get in the green Ford Pickup.

  17. #17
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    lol @ green Ford Pickup

    You know your dialogue, Architectus. Good examples.

  18. #18
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    Stilted dialogue would be anything that doesn't mirror real-life conversation. Sounds too formal.

  19. #19
    Super Browser triceretops's Avatar
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    I've been nailed on stilted dialogue more times than I can count. Oh, and "by the way, Bob" dialogue and narrative.

    Tri

  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    ... when I first started out somebody said my dialogue was stilted. By that, they meant that my words and style of expression where antiquated. And that was indeed the case, as a result of my reading novels from the 19th century, exclusively, and using that as a guide for my own writing, without really being aware of it. For an example of that sort of stilted writing, just read a passage of prose from a Victorian novel. The style was perfectly fine back then, but nowadays it's out of date, which is in some ways a shame.

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