PDA

View Full Version : Can anyone tell me what forced dialog in stories mean?



BlueLucario
12-09-2007, 09:12 PM
I wrote my piece. and everyone is saying that my dialogue is too forced, but I don't understand what that means.

Can you give me an example?

Ziljon
12-09-2007, 09:26 PM
Hey Blue, I think sometimes people say dialogue is forced when it is used too obviously to take the place of exposition, like two people meeting:

NOT FORCED
--Hey
--Oh, hi.
--I'm Ziljon.
--That's a weird name.
--Tell me about it.

FORCED:
--Hey.
--Oh Hey, you startled me. Who are you and where did you come from anyway?
--I'm Ziljon. I just came from Birelli where I had to get my license stamped.
--Ziljon? That's a weird name for a dude with golden hair and blue eyes.
--Tell me about it. I was adopted. I don't know where my real folks come from but it's not here, where everyone is dark haired and dark eyed.

BlueLucario
12-09-2007, 09:38 PM
Oh I see. Everything just sounds like a group of nerds talking.

scarletpeaches
12-09-2007, 09:40 PM
Forced dialogue to me, is when it sounds stilted and/or is used as an info-dump. The kind of writing that makes you cry out, "No one speaks like that in real life!"

blacbird
12-09-2007, 11:52 PM
Act out your dialogue, both reading aloud and performing whatever descriptive tasks that accompany it. You'll figure it out better that way than any other.

And remember, the primary purpose of dialogue in fiction is to show character relationships. It emphatically is NOT to provide factual information to the reader.

caw

Inky
12-10-2007, 12:47 AM
Hey Blue, I think sometimes people say dialogue is forced when it is used too obviously to take the place of exposition, like two people meeting:

NOT FORCED
--Hey
--Oh, hi.
--I'm Ziljon.
--That's a weird name.
--Tell me about it.

FORCED:
--Hey.
--Oh Hey, you startled me. Who are you and where did you come from anyway?
--I'm Ziljon. I just came from Birelli where I had to get my license stamped.
--Ziljon? That's a weird name for a dude with golden hair and blue eyes.
--Tell me about it. I was adopted. I don't know where my real folks come from but it's not here, where everyone is dark haired and dark eyed.
I was going to add my 2 cents.
But I read this first.
You should be paid for your 2 cents.
This was a PERFECT example!

ACEnders
12-10-2007, 03:56 AM
I think basically forced dialogue is when the characters sound like they're two robots talking to each other. Or like...you know how on CSI a lot of times, two investigators will talk to each other about a certain process that surely all CSIs already understand? They discuss it as though one of them doesn't so that the watchers can understand.

I read a book by Barbara Taylor Bradford. I actually think her story is wonderful, but too often her characters sum up things, and it feels as though she just through that scene in so that we can remember everything that's happening. She'll have two characters sit down and review together everything...everything that she actually already told us (or rather, showed us) earlier in the novel. Her novels are long, and I'm willing to bet she could cut out a lot and make them quite a bit shorter.

But that's just me. I'm just sayin...

Maryn
12-10-2007, 06:12 AM
Act out your dialogue, both reading aloud and performing whatever descriptive tasks that accompany it. You'll figure it out better that way than any other.This method sure works, but I'm not sure it's better than any other. The best I ever found (now impossible) was to get kids 8-12 who were good readers to read the dialogue aloud and act it out. It's even better than reading it yourself, because the kid doesn't know how you hear a line or envision an action in your imagination.

Plus they'll work for next to nothing.

Maryn, whose kids are too old now--anybody got some she can borrow?

Birol
12-10-2007, 07:41 AM
Good summations on what forced, or stilted, dialogue is and good advice on how to determine if dialogue is forced or not. Does anyone have any suggestions for how BlueLucario could learn to write more natural-sounding dialogue? Techniques she could practice? Methods that have worked for you when you were learning?

Don Allen
12-10-2007, 07:56 AM
If your dialog seems to contrived or even corny, it comes off as forced. I have a great example of something I wrote 15-20 years ago that was really forced and bad bad bad. The line was said by a charactor leading a recovery team of test animals after a nuclear test in a Nevada desert. For some reason I thought it might be nice to have the commander express something to his team as to the way they handled the animals... "Remember gentleman, these animals have been through hell, and our job is to get them back to the lab in as good of condition as possible. Lets treat them with dignity." ( Oh hurl) The line was so bad it still gives me the quivers, " I was drunk or high or stoned or having sex when I wrote it, then quickly tossed whatever was in my gut and threw half the damn book away. My point, is that it was a ridiculous line that would have never been said... As noted in the posts above, to force a line is to say something that needs not be said, or in this case shouldn't have been said.

maestrowork
12-10-2007, 09:17 AM
I wrote my piece. and everyone is saying that my dialogue is too forced, but I don't understand what that means.

Can you give me an example?

Basically unnatural dialogue -- doesn't sound like your characters would say things like that. Info dump, etc. As if they are puppets and the author is force feeding lines to them. They're saying those lines because the author says so.

"Good morning, Mary," Joseph said.
"Good morning, Joseph."
"How are you and our lovely daughter Sue?"
"Our lovely daughter Sue is still in bed sleeping. But would you like some orange juice to go with your french toast this morning?"
"That would be lovely, my dear wife."

Bonus point: Tell me the specific reasons why the dialogue above is forced, stilted, or unnatural.

Inky
12-10-2007, 10:20 AM
Basically unnatural dialogue -- doesn't sound like your characters would say things like that. Info dump, etc. As if they are puppets and the author is force feeding lines to them. They're saying those lines because the author says so.

"Good morning, Mary," Joseph said.
"Good morning, Joseph."
"How are you and our lovely daughter Sue?"
"Our lovely daughter Sue is still in bed sleeping. But would you like some orange juice to go with your french toast this morning?"
"That would be lovely, my dear wife."

Bonus point: Tell me the specific reasons why the dialogue above is forced, stilted, or unnatural.
I can't.
I threw it across the room, pissed I'd spent money, having fallen for a GREAT cover--again! Gah, but I hate when authors treat me like I'm in 1st grade.
See Mark run?
See Sox chase Mark?
See Jane wave to Mark?
"Look, Sox, here comes Jane!"

When in actuality, it would be:

"Stuck entertaining the stupid dog again, eh?"
Mark smirked at Jane, then handed her a plastic baggie. "Yeah, but you get doody-duty."

blacbird
12-10-2007, 11:26 AM
"Good morning, Mary," Joseph said.
"Good morning, Joseph."
"How are you and our lovely daughter Sue?"
"Our lovely daughter Sue is still in bed sleeping. But would you like some orange juice to go with your french toast this morning?"
"That would be lovely, my dear wife."


Might work if Mary is a Stepford wife.

caw

dpaterso
12-10-2007, 12:34 PM
"Good morning, Mary," Joseph said.
"Good morning, Joseph."
"How are you and our lovely daughter Sue?"
"Our lovely daughter Sue is still in bed sleeping. But would you like some orange juice to go with your french toast this morning?"
"That would be lovely, my dear wife."

Bonus point: Tell me the specific reasons why the dialogue above is forced, stilted, or unnatural.
Because they don't have a daughter called Sue, they have a son called Jesus? Wild guess. :)

I don't think it's impossible that a couple would speak to each other in this way, if they were being playful. In fact it sounds quite natural to me if viewed from this angle. But people who know each other intimately don't usually feel the need to say each other's names or spell out their relationship.

-Derek

Inky
12-10-2007, 01:52 PM
...nor be so delightfully civil.
Well, I take that back.
I speak to my husband like this...when he's in the dog house.


Course, after 19 years, he now continues the conversation with inane questions. Ah, I miss the old days...when he used to back slowly away....and buy chocolate.

Marian Perera
12-10-2007, 02:28 PM
Does anyone have any suggestions for how BlueLucario could learn to write more natural-sounding dialogue? Techniques she could practice? Methods that have worked for you when you were learning?

Read the dialogue in good novels. George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is a great example, and on the occasions when characters indulge in paragraphs of exposition or description, he has a reason why they're doing so.

Maryn
12-10-2007, 05:49 PM
Ray's example shows something lots of beginning writers (and soap opera writers) do which real people talking to each other never do.

You may think Ray's overplaying it, but I've critiqued enough people's first-ever stories to know this is extremely common forced dialogue.

Two people having a conversation almost never use one another's names, except in daytime drama where the new audience members need to learn who's who. They don't even use affectionate or familiar forms of direct address (babe, my sweet Babu, buddy) very much, because they both know who they're talking to, although sometimes they'll use it to put the other person down or emphasize their roles (son, boy, master, boss, ma'am).

They also don't tell one another things they both know (we have a child, and we named her Sue--although she does look more like a Jesus, come to think of it), but the reader does not.

Maryn, still chuckling over the name thing

Marian Perera
12-10-2007, 05:59 PM
Bonus point: Tell me the specific reasons why the dialogue above is forced, stilted, or unnatural.

People don't spell out things like what's for breakfast in normal dialogue if they know each other. The husband is probably used to having orange juice in the morning, so the wife doesn't need to say what kind it is unless there's something unusual about it.

"Juice?" She set a glass of dark liquid before him and held up a hand before he could say anything. "You forgot the Tropicana yesterday, didn't you? Well, enjoy your blackcurrant."

DeadlyAccurate
12-10-2007, 06:19 PM
I don't think it's impossible that a couple would speak to each other in this way, if they were being playful. In fact it sounds quite natural to me if viewed from this angle. But people who know each other intimately don't usually feel the need to say each other's names or spell out their relationship.

See, to me the only way that would sound natural is if there was this line in there: Mary slid the divorce papers across the table.

Suddenly, the painfully stilted dialog takes on a whole new context.

maestrowork
12-10-2007, 07:16 PM
Their lovely daughter Sue's older brother Jesus came out from his room and said, "What would I do?"

BlueLucario
12-10-2007, 07:18 PM
Read the dialogue in good novels. George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is a great example, and on the occasions when characters indulge in paragraphs of exposition or description, he has a reason why they're doing so.


I did. I copyed how J.K Rowling wrote. I read the harry potter books and I think that's how she wrote it with the dialogue.

DeadlyAccurate
12-10-2007, 07:53 PM
I love the HP books; I've read all but the last one at least twice (and I'll re-read the last one eventually); and I think Rowling is a terrific storyteller.

But she is not someone you should try to emulate. For one, her dialog isn't one of her strongest points. For another, because of the sheer popularity of her books (not to mention the aforementioned strength in storytelling), there's a certain amount of...leeway given to her writing.

To improve your own dialog, you need to find writers for whom this aspect of the skill is one of their strongest. Martin is an excellent example (also great for characterization.) If you want to stick with YA fantasy, try Jonathan Stroud's The Bartimaeus Trilogy. Bartimaeus has some of the best lines of dialog you'll ever see in fiction.

For a more modern example, Janet Evanovich is great with snappy patter.

ChaosTitan
12-10-2007, 08:02 PM
To improve your own dialog, you need to find writers for whom this aspect of the skill is one of their strongest. Martin is an excellent example (also great for characterization.) If you want to stick with YA fantasy, try Jonathan Stroud's The Bartimaeus Trilogy. Bartimaeus has some of the best lines of dialog you'll ever see in fiction.

For a more modern example, Janet Evanovich is great with snappy patter.


I came back to this thread with a similar reply, but DeadlyAccurate beat me to it. :D

Reading and attempting to emulate one author is the worst way to learn. Be widely read and be a sponge while reading.

Birol
12-10-2007, 08:20 PM
You could also try to go to a crowded place and eavesdrop. Take a pad of paper and a pen and jot down parts of conversations that you overhear. Don't worry about why people are saying the things and don't try to think about the conversations at the time. Just get the words down. Then, take it home and reread what you wrote. Can you tell what the people were talking about? How? What didn't they say that the other people seemed to understand? Was there information conveyed that was never said outright? What can you tell about the individuals speaking and their relationships to the people they are talking to based on how they spoke?

mikeland
12-10-2007, 08:26 PM
Good summations on what forced, or stilted, dialogue is and good advice on how to determine if dialogue is forced or not. Does anyone have any suggestions for how BlueLucario could learn to write more natural-sounding dialogue? Techniques she could practice? Methods that have worked for you when you were learning?

I write screenplays with a partner. Whenever we get stuck on a scene, we force each other to act out the scene without looking at what we already wrote. We know the situation, but we need to hear what we would naturally say if we were in that moment.

So, turn your back on the computer. Imagine you're the character in that situation. Then, don't think, just say whatever comes to mind out loud. You're more likely to get "pass that over, babe" than "Excuse me, Mary, can you pass me that pitcher of juice?"

Rowdymama
12-11-2007, 12:07 AM
The acknowledged master of dialogue these days is Elmore Leonard. Any of his books will teach you how to write dialoge, but don't copy him, Rowling or anyone else. Just read and enjoy, and you'll get the idea.

Also remember (and if you go to a coffee shop and listen, you'll notice this right away) that each person in conversation, let's call them A and B, has their own agenda. Listen carefully and you'll see that most lines of A's conversation apply to what A was talking about in her last speech, and has very little to do with what B said.

Life, however, is not fiction. Fiction is selective, dramatized life. If the characters are under stress, if there's actually something important going on, they probably won't indulge in chit-chat. The dialogue should be lean and spare.

A lot of forced dialogue starts with, "As you know, (Tom)." Screamingly funny, these days.

BlueLucario
12-11-2007, 12:25 AM
.

But she is not someone you should try to emulate. For one, her dialog isn't one of her strongest points. For another, because of the sheer popularity of her books (not to mention the aforementioned strength in storytelling), there's a certain amount of...leeway given to her writing. .


can you elaborate on what you said DA?

dpaterso
12-11-2007, 12:37 AM
Once again I would recommend reading the transcripts from series known for smart characters and clever dialogue, like Buffy (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/buffy/), Angel (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/angel/), O.C. (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/oc/) and Gilmore Girls (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/gilmoregirls/) which can all be downloaded from TwizTV.com

-Derek

AceTachyon
12-11-2007, 12:59 AM
Once again I would recommend reading the transcripts from series known for smart characters and clever dialogue, like Buffy (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/buffy/), Angel (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/angel/), O.C. (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/oc/) and Gilmore Girls (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/gilmoregirls/) which can all be downloaded from TwizTV.com

-Derek
I might even add The West Wing (http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/westwing/)to that list. (link takes you to TwizTV.com)

I seem to recall reading somewhere that David Mamet was also a good study for well-written dialogue.

maestrowork
12-11-2007, 01:09 AM
Six Feet Under -- some of the best writing and dialogue.

tjwriter
12-11-2007, 01:40 AM
I did. I copyed how J.K Rowling wrote. I read the harry potter books and I think that's how she wrote it with the dialogue.


But she is not someone you should try to emulate. For one, her dialog isn't one of her strongest points. For another, because of the sheer popularity of her books (not to mention the aforementioned strength in storytelling), there's a certain amount of...leeway given to her writing.


can you elaborate on what you said DA?

I'm not DA, but I'll try to elaborate a little for you.

What DA is saying is that you should look to someone else to write in the style of because JK's dialogue is not the strongest material out there. I'll go as far to say that it's her storytelling not her prose that has made her successful.

In addition to that fact, she is so popular, that there are aspects of her books that would normally make an editor cringe and request a rewrite were it not that she's so successful. This seems to happen a lot to wildly successful authors, as readers will often remark that the stories do not seem as tight as they once did.

So in summary, it would be better for you to find a writer who does dialogue very well, and write with that style in mind.

I hope this helps.

Danger Jane
12-11-2007, 02:27 AM
I think it's worth mentioning that when you're first starting out, it's okay to emulate other writers. Just pick good ones--the ones who not only tell excellent stories, but also write excellent prose.

The key is that while you learn to understand different styles, you also are developing your own. The better able you are to copy someone else...the more original your prose ought to sound. You can't copy forever; we remember the visionaries, not the really good mimics.

To improve your own dialogue:

Read out loud. Your own work and the work of others. Learn to compare stilted, contrived (arbitrary) dialogue with natural dialogue.

Type out pages of authors you admire. Again, not authors you admire for their success--like JK Rowling--but those you admire for their great skill. There have been a lot of good recommendations in this thread already. I'll add Jonathan Safran Foer. Great writer overall, but I also really like how he uses his dialogue to illustrate the character relationships.

Don't worry. A lot of us started out writing forced dialogue. The trick is to recognize the difference between good and bad so you can train yourself accordingly.

IceCreamEmpress
12-11-2007, 07:08 AM
Never heard of Jim Dale.

Jim Dale is an actor who is the reader on the US audiobooks of the "Harry Potter" series. Mr. Dale is a really, really fine actor with a tremendously nuanced voice, and he's able to make Rowling's dialogue sound natural--which I think is much more a testament to Dale's acting skills than to Rowling's dialogue skills. I find that the "Harry Potter" books succeed DESPITE the clumsy dialogue.

I'm going to add my voice to the chorus of people saying "Read more; read people who are better at dialogue; pay attention to how it's done." Some novelists I think are amazing at dialogue: Flannery O'Connor, Dawn Powell, Chester Himes, Eudora Welty, Richard Ford, Donald Westlake, Gish Jen, Carl Hiassen.

Rowling, like many other giant-selling authors (I'm thinking of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, and other big-book blockbuster adventure writers) is strong on plot and description, and weaker on dialogue and character subtlety. If you can combine a swashbuckling plot with subtly portrayed dialogue, you'll be doing something awesome.

For some reason, it's a bit rarer in English than in some other languages--Cervantes, for example, was king of plot AND master of dialogue. Same with Alexandre Dumas. In English, there aren't many examples outside of Dickens, and his dialogue is hit and miss. L. Frank Baum managed it in most of his Oz books, and I think Ken Follett and John Le Carre do a pretty good job with it.

dpaterso
12-11-2007, 02:57 PM
Jim Dale is an actor who is the reader on the US audiobooks of the "Harry Potter" series. Mr. Dale is a really, really fine actor with a tremendously nuanced voice, and he's able to make Rowling's dialogue sound natural...
Took me a moment to realize you mean the Jim Dale (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0197715/) of "Carry On" movies fame.


Reader of the "Harry Potter" series audio-books. Holds the Guinness World Record for most distinct characters voiced in an audio-book (134) for "Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix".
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0197715/otherworks

-Derek

Bufty
12-11-2007, 04:55 PM
If the dialogue can be cut and the story loses nothing by its removal, then the dialogue shouldn't be there.

seun
12-11-2007, 05:06 PM
If the dialogue can be cut and the story loses nothing by its removal, then the dialogue shouldn't be there.

I'll second that and add it should apply to any word. Justify it or lose it.

BlueLucario
12-12-2007, 12:51 AM
If the dialogue can be cut and the story loses nothing by its removal, then the dialogue shouldn't be there.


What if this stilted dialogue is part of the story. Like telling the reader where to go. what to do.

Marian Perera
12-12-2007, 01:07 AM
What if this stilted dialogue is part of the story. Like telling the reader where to go. what to do.

Telling the reader? Don't you mean telling another character this?

And stilted dialogue can work if that's how the character talks or if that's the style of a particular publication. On the other hand, if all the characters speak this way or if the narrative is stilted as well, then it looks more like inexperience on the part of the author.

pepperlandgirl
12-12-2007, 01:25 AM
What if this stilted dialogue is part of the story. Like telling the reader where to go. what to do.

That means you either don't trust yourself as an author to convey the necessary parts of the story, or you don't trust your readers to understand what you want them to. Neither one is good.

BlueLucario
12-12-2007, 01:33 AM
Telling the reader? Don't you mean telling another character this?

And stilted dialogue can work if that's how the character talks or if that's the style of a particular publication. On the other hand, if all the characters speak this way or if the narrative is stilted as well, then it looks more like inexperience on the part of the author.

Yes, i meant that. The characters, sorry. >.<

blacbird
12-12-2007, 08:31 AM
In addition to what Danger Jane just said, do this: READ. Read voraciously, and critically, the best narrative fiction writers around. Study how the ones who do dialogue well, do it . . . well, well..

Read John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Rex Stout, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, Carson McCullers, John Steinbeck, Jim Harrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Pete Dexter, lots of others.

Read a lot. Always.

caw

Birol
12-12-2007, 10:35 AM
Because the first posted sample related to what was and what was not stilted dialogue, I saw where it was appropriate, but with more samples being posted and the crits taking a larger range, I'm going to split this thread and move the samples and crits to SYW (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1878362&posted=1#post1878362).

Password is vista.

Marian Perera
12-12-2007, 01:13 PM
Read a lot. Always.

This is good advice. Blue, could you tell us what authors you read, other than Rowling?

BlueLucario
12-12-2007, 08:36 PM
This is good advice. Blue, could you tell us what authors you read, other than Rowling?


I don't read by author. I read reviews of books before I read. I just started reading from one of the most respected authors existed, Steven King. I just read Carrie, It was confusing due to all the flashbacks, and the story never gets to the plot. I only read the blood sport, only topic that was interesting. (Now I understand what writers meant by stick to the plot). So I stopped reading it before I finished. Then I'm going to read pet semetary. I don't know what it's about but I hear it's good. The only reason I read harry potter is because kids are saying it's so good, and that's all they ever talk about back in middle school. And If HP is a best seller, then I feel like I have to follow this authors example in order to become a good writer, copy her style and the way she writes. But I didn't think anyone would say she's not a talented writer, despite being the first time any kid has ever talked about a book that they read.

IceCreamEmpress
12-12-2007, 10:04 PM
And If HP is a best seller, then I feel like I have to follow this authors example in order to become a good writer, copy her style and the way she writes.

J. K. Rowling isn't a huge best-seller because of her style. She's a huge best-seller because of her plots. And some aspects of her style--visual description, for instance--are much stronger than others--dialogue, for instance.

FennelGiraffe
12-12-2007, 10:28 PM
And If HP is a best seller, then I feel like I have to follow this authors example in order to become a good writer, copy her style and the way she writes. But I didn't think anyone would say she's not a talented writer, despite being the first time any kid has ever talked about a book that they read.

JK Rowling's talent has been discussed quite extensively, here at AW and at every other writing (or reading) venue I've seen. Clearly she's a good storyteller. Whether she's a good writer--that's a different question.

There's something intangible about which book will merely do well and which book will become a publishing phenomenon. No one knows how to predict it. It's a bit like winning the lottery. Mega best selling authors like JK Rowling and Dan Brown rarely provide good examples of skilled writing. The thing that makes their books catch popular interest is--something else.

geardrops
12-13-2007, 01:58 AM
I don't read by author. I read reviews of books before I read. I just started reading from one of the most respected authors existed, Steven King. I just read Carrie, It was confusing due to all the flashbacks, and the story never gets to the plot. I only read the blood sport, only topic that was interesting. (Now I understand what writers meant by stick to the plot). So I stopped reading it before I finished. Then I'm going to read pet semetary. I don't know what it's about but I hear it's good...

Read until your eyes fall out. Then put them back in and read some more.

You're posting works in scifi/fantasy, yet the most of the genre you've read is Harry Potter? There's some basic authors you need to get under your belt for that genre. Tolkein. Heinlein. Gaiman. Phillip K Dick. Stephenson. Huxley. Orwell. L'Engle. Card. I could keep going (and I'm sure you've all noticed my scifi bent by now). If nothing else just read everything that's ever won a Nebula (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebula_Award_for_Best_Novel) or a Hugo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Novel). And just read books in general, not only your genre. You'll write better for having read the Greats.

Is that a lot of books? Hardly.

Writing without reading is like singing without listening to music or painting without looking at art. Get on it.