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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Writing Quote: Real Versus Fictional Dialogue

     Among the things I remember hearing when I was beginning to write was: You shouldn't make fictional dialogue--conversation on the page--sound like actual speech. The repetitions, meaningless expressions, stammers, and nonsensical monosyllables with which we express hesitation, along with the cliche`s and banalities that constitute so much of everyday conversation, cannot and should not be used when our characters are talking. Rather, they should speak more fluently than we do, with greater economy and certitude. Unlike us, they should say what they mean, get to the point, avoid circumlocution and digression. The idea, presumably, is that fictional dialogue should be an improved, cleaned-up, smoothed-out version of the the way people talk.

     Then why is so much written dialogue less colorful and interesting than what we can overhear daily…Many writers have a gift for language that flows when they are talking and dries up when they are confronted with the blank page, or when they are trying to make characters speak?…

     When we speak, we are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what  we are not saying, which is often not merely distracting but, we fear, as audible as what we are saying. As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it. One mark of badly written dialogue is that it is only doing one thing at once.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006

     

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