Three Dirty Birds on Dialogue

threedirtybirds-400|Master List|

Three Dirty Birds are dialoguing about tweeting…no, wait, I’ve got that backwards. (Too much blood in my caffeine system…) We’re twittering about dialogue today, that’s it!

Zoe: I have to admit that I skimmed this one. First, dialogue’s something I’ve always been strong in, so I’m less interested in reading about it (I want to read about all the stuff I fail at!), and second, it was just a lot of examples.

Kate: I felt the same way about it. I’m also strong in dialogue, so a lot of this seemed like so much filler to me. Points that were really, REALLY obvious, and I wasn’t sure why he even addressed them.

Ana: I don’t know, on the off chance that for some people this is the only writing book they’ll ever read? Honestly, I feel like we’ve discussed all this before. At least once if not twice.

Zoe: It is a good primer for people who don’t have a handle on dialogue. Or a natural ear for it.

Kate: And there are people like that out there.

Zoe: In some ways, I think that dialogue problems that people have are actually wider problems related to scene and tension and all of that. It shows up in dialogue pretty acutely when they meander around, trying to figure out what their characters should be saying. They don’t know what their characters should be saying, though, because they haven’t figured out the important structure of the scene—objective, obstacles, etc., especially the wants/needs/problems of each character in the scene.

Kate: I think you’re right. You have to know what your goal for each scene is, or you really don’t know what to write. It’s okay to wander and write loosey–goosey stuff when you’re first drafting and trying to figure out your story, but by the end, you should have tweaked everything much tighter, and every scene and line of dialogue should be there because the story needs it.

Zoe: Right. In the first draft, you might be like, “I need to have a scene with the coworker, because I need to show her at work,” and by the time you know your story better, you need to figure out what that scene needs to be doing in the story. And then you can get rid of the “Did you get that report done on time?” “Yeah, I had to work late, but I got it.” Blah blah blah.

Kate: I didn’t agree with his take in the section on dialogue needing to be compressed. I thought the dialogue gave us an excellent image of the kinds of people involved in that conversation, even though the dialogue itself kind of meandered. But this is the kind of conversation where there would be repetition of ideas, since the guy was trying to convince a reluctant girl to sleep with him. You could follow his thought processes as he snuck the idea up on her, knowing she would say no, and how he kept picking at the issue from different directions. I think he would have lost a lot of the characterisation if he’s compressed it to its essential bits.

Ana: I guess you have to judge each scene / dialogue individually considering the characters personalities and their goals. As I’m reading Heart Shaped Box, there’s this girl who asks a lot of questions… A LOT OF QUESTIONS. And that was a point, but I did feel he didn’t need to make that point multiple times. (Also, keep in mind the example you described, a guy trying to talk a girl into having sex… that would never sell for 2,99 / 20 pages on Amazon these days! You need to get to the action quicker. 😉  )

Kate: Lol.

Zoe: When I saw the heading—”Dialogue is Compressed”—I thought he was going to tell us to leave out the filler and stuff that makes real-world conversation mundane when translated to the page, but the examples didn’t support that. In fact, his examples were the thing that made me panic with an earlier book whenever I had someone speak for a whole paragraph. But how can you have a deep talk in one-sentence bites??

Kate: You can’t. I’m not sure he really knew what he wanted to get at in this section.

Zoe: What did you birds think about Parent—Adult—Child?

Ana: Again, something I can’t see myself using. Especially since it shifts around in one conversation so much that I don’t even find it all that useful for myself. For me, what I need to see how a conversation goes is the personalities of the characters involved, their goals and their respective moods.

Kate: I liked most of the 12 Tools for Great Dialogue, but that one just flew right past me. I didn’t get all of his explanations, even after rereading, and it sounds more like a revamp of Id, Ego, and Superego to me.

Zoe: Reading it, I felt that the characters’ motivations, etc., were far more important considerations than who was taking on the role of parent, adult, or child, at any given point in an exchange. It just seemed like something you’d waste time and drive yourself crazy with.

Ana: I like to think people are more flexible than that.

Kate: Those roles shift all the time in conversation, anyway.

Zoe: I skipped over “Act it Out” entirely because there are just some things you know aren’t going to happen in your life.

Kate: I thought that might be useful if you were working on a scene that was giving you fits. Sometimes switching modalities will activate a different part of your brain, which lets you see things more clearly. (I’m a verbal learner.) But I’d for sure not be doing it when anyone else is around!

Ana: -quietly sets up a webcam in Kate’s office-

Zoe: ~gets the pot going for popcorn~

I liked the sections on sidesteps and silence. Dialogue does have more energy when it’s not on-the-nose. More tension.

Kate: Those were good. Your characters are very rarely ever on the same page, metaphorically speaking, and sometimes that has to come out in their speech.

Ana: Or in the things they don’t say.

Zoe: The section on using words as weapons went way long.

Kate: Did it ever… It’s all about choosing your vocabulary.

Zoe: All you have to do is listen to your characters. (~She says as someone who has a natural ear for dialogue~ Apologies to the people who don’t!)

Kate: And deciding whether you need to up the tension, or de-escalate.

Zoe: Once again, I did find the key points at the end of the chapter useful, even in a chapter I didn’t get a lot of use out of. (Index cards, Mr. Bell! Index cards!)