Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Importance of Dialogue

In books and movies what does dialogue hope to achieve? It's there to help the reader/viewer get to know the character (by the way they speak) and for the characters to interact. The biggest thing for dialogue is to help with the suspension of disbelief (after all, isn't dialogue one way we interact in everyday life), so what the characters say has to be believable and actually serve a purpose.

I've seen several movies lately where the majority of dialogue (apart from being cheesy) was only hidden exposition. It's okay to learn things that may be foreign, but when one of the characters takes time out of the action to describe, in detail, some part of what's going on or the significance of a magical book that is very secret that no one besides a few people knows about then it's going overboard... especially when they're talkinga bout past events that could be rounded up by showing a flash back if it's absolutely needed (not asking a random stranger to give in intimate details about the event... yes, I've seen this being done lately).

So, when thinking about dialogue, what does need to be considered?
  1. If it's necessary: is the character saying something important or can what they're saying be told through action?
  2. Is it being repetitive?  Do you mention it in action or does another character say something similar? Don't need to bore the reader with the same information.
  3. Is it believable? Does the dialogue match who's saying it? 
  4. Does it move the story forward? Yeah, in the real world we have mundane conversations about what we want for breakfast, or arguments about putting the trash out... but does the reader really need to hear these conversations if they're not related to the story?
Dialogue is an important element in any story, if the reader doesn't believe in what the characters are saying, then the story will be hard to believe.

Do you find it difficult in giving your characters words? What sorts of dialogue do you find irritating when you're reading or watching a movie?

2 comments:

Deb Salisbury said...

My characters are chatterboxes - most of the time. Sometimes I can't shut them up, but occasionally I need to prod them to speak. They're good at staying on topic, though.

I get irritated when dialogue is stilted or boring. Or "as you know, Tom." That one drives me up the wall.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Dialog is conflict.
If characters aren't arguing or talking at cross-purposes, the dialog is flat.
Just talking about stuff characters agree about is boring. Same with explanations.
But yes, the two-hours arguments with my wife would be poor dialog in a book. Get to the point...fast. Take a real-life 2-hour argument and boil it down to a two minute exchange that is the real meat of it.

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