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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Discussions About Orson Scott Card » Dialogue, for OSC and others

   
Author Topic: Dialogue, for OSC and others
Pelegius
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Dialogue is my greatest fault as I writer, I see this myself and have been told so by others. It is, however, I belive OSC's greatest strength as a writer, the question is how he does it.

Any ideas, not least from the maestro himself? The fact that he has great charecters is part of it, of course, but that only gets one so far.

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Scott R
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For me, being a playwright for two years was great experience in learning how people within a story communicate verbally.
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Libbie
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quote:
Originally posted by Scott R:
For me, being a playwright for two years was great experience in learning how people within a story communicate verbally.

If you read Mr. Card's extended biography here on hatrack.com, he cites playwriting and other stage experiences as a major influence on his writing style, as well.

Maybe you should try getting involved in stage performances in some respect, if you aren't already? You could try some community acting lessons, or audition for local plays. I did musical and non-musical theater for 14 years, and it definitely does influence how you see storytelling!

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Pelegius
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"Maybe you should try getting involved in stage performances in some respect, if you aren't already?"

I have acted, directed andbeen a stage hand, but never written (for obvious reasons.)

Perhaps a healthy dose of Shakespeare and Molière is called for, although I have not found that reading great dialogue necessarily leads to writing it.

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Nell Gwyn
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Hmm...if you're looking to write dialogue that reads more naturally in a modern context, I'd recommend reading someone like David Mamet instead, or Tom Stoppard, Caryl Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, or Tennessee Williams, or maybe even Harold Pinter. Shakespeare and Moliere are awesome, but they're a wee bit 16th/17th century, dialogue-wise. [Smile]

There's a lot of 20th-21st century playwrights with fantastic dialogue that sounds like stuff real people would say, but that still has a lot of meaning packed into it. Mamet was the first to spring to my mind, though, because of the way he uses natural speaking rhythms, complete with stutters, verbal pauses, and interruptions - it can take a few minutes to wrap your head around his style if you're not used to reading it.

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Orson Scott Card
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You learn a lot by writing plays - even short ones - and then getting actors to read the lines. Until you hear your dialogue spoken aloud by someone who does not already understand your intent (i.e., anybody but you), you have no idea what you've written.

Just remember that dialogue is NOT natural speech. Natural speech is confusing and boring. What people mock President Bush for is the fact that he talks pretty much like people usually talk, instead of with formality (i.e., pomposity when it's somebody you don't like, eloquence when it's somebody you do). Dialogue rests in a middle ground between natural speech and perfect, essay-like phrasing.

I used to do the latter, till in college a fellow student said to me that everybody sounded like they expected their words to be engraved in stone.

At the same time, some go too far and make their dialogue muddy and ineffective. Readers won't sit still for natural dialogue because it's so confusing and dull.

Dialogue is at its best when it's between a pair of speakers (when you have three people, you have to keep tagging them; but most conversations with three people present are really alternating exchanges between two or monologues).

When you're writing that dialogue, keep track of how well they already know each other. Have they had this discussion before? In that case they can jump straight to the jugular; they'll certainly refer back to previous discussions.

What is the subtext? If someone is talking about train schedules but THINKING that he wishes the other person were sexually available, the train schedule dialogue will be different - but how? For a shy person, it will probably be more formal. Don't go for the obvious.

Remember that in fiction you can alternate what they do say with what they don't say but would like to. (Of course, you can do this only with the viewpoint character if you're in third-person limited, or the first person narrator UNLESS you're having him imagine what the other person is thinking.)

A cool trick is to write the scene and then go through and remove pairs of speeches. You'll be surprised how repetitive your dialogue was, and how selective removals can make the dialogue jump forward, like quick cuts in a movie, which can make it sizzle a bit.

DON'T have any character be there just to feed the main character information or questions. EVERYBODY is the hero of his own story; everybody has his own purpose in the conversation.

We're working on dialogue right now in the playwriting class that Robert Stoddard and I are co-teaching at SVU. Lots of fun. But let's face it - it's one of the hardest things to teach. The most important thing is to get lots of experience writing it, and then hearing people say it. (Especially if you get GOOD actors, so you know that ineptitudes are your fault and not theirs.)

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jd2cly60
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quote:
A cool trick is to write the scene and then go through and remove pairs of speeches. You'll be surprised how repetitive your dialogue was, and how selective removals can make the dialogue jump forward, like quick cuts in a movie, which can make it sizzle a bit.
for a superb example of this in action, go rent the DVD of Brick (brand new movie that's just terrifically fun to watch) and after you watch the movie, take fifteen minutes and watch the deleted scenes. The director talks about how in the editing process they snipped out bits of dialogue here and there and really made the whole movie snap, you really see how alive a scene became when they made the right choice and took something out.
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Scott R
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quote:
The most important thing is to get lots of experience writing it, and then hearing people say it.
Hearing the dialogue (and the narration, too) is a good way to get a feel for what needs to be cut and what sounds right.
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Pelegius
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Wow, thank you OSC, I'm overwhelmed (I realize this could sound sarcastic on a forum, but I am being sincere.)

And Tennessee Williams also came to my mind as a great dialogue writer while at school.

Now it just comes down to putting theory into practice.

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Nikisknight
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Dialogue is usually the part of stories that I enjoy the most, although I couldn't really explain how to do it well, or even determine IF I do in fact do it well.
Enjoyed reading your thoughts, Mr. Card.

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Libbie
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quote:
Originally posted by Pelegius:
"Maybe you should try getting involved in stage performances in some respect, if you aren't already?"

I have acted, directed andbeen a stage hand, but never written (for obvious reasons.)

Perhaps a healthy dose of Shakespeare and Molière is called for, although I have not found that reading great dialogue necessarily leads to writing it.

I think it would probably help to develop your dialogue faster if you tried writing pieces that were intended to be performed by actors. Even if you just get a few friends together to run your scenes for you, that would probably help you. I believe writing and watching others perform the results would probably be a faster way to develop dialogue than reading...but that's just my assumption. [Smile]
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Libbie
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quote:
Originally posted by Libbie:
quote:
Originally posted by Pelegius:
"Maybe you should try getting involved in stage performances in some respect, if you aren't already?"

I have acted, directed andbeen a stage hand, but never written (for obvious reasons.)

Perhaps a healthy dose of Shakespeare and Molière is called for, although I have not found that reading great dialogue necessarily leads to writing it.

I think it would probably help to develop your dialogue faster if you tried writing pieces that were intended to be performed by actors. Even if you just get a few friends together to run your scenes for you, that would probably help you. I believe writing and watching others perform the results would probably be a faster way to develop dialogue than reading...but that's just my assumption. [Smile]
Der - never mind, OSC said what I said a month ago. That'll teach me to not read the entire thread before I reply. [ROFL]
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quidscribis
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Still, I'm glad the thread was resurrected - I hadn't read it before - and I appreciate the advice given here. Thanks, everyone, especially OSC. [Smile]
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