Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dialogue is a Tricky Thing

"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought and attended my answer." ~Henry David Thoreau

Dialogue is a tricky thing.

I realized this after I sent in a contest entry about, oh, 5 years ago, and one of the judge's comments read, "Dialogue does not ring true. I have 2 teenagers, and they don't talk this way."


Later, of course, I realized she (he?) was probably right. And I think I've gotten better, over the years, at writing it. One thing I often do is read my dialogue out loud. I think it gives me a much better idea whether someone would actually say that, and in those exact words.

I'm sure you've all read stories with poorly written dialogue, right? You're cruising along, and then all of a sudden you're pulled out by some awkward comment that one character says to another. And all you can think is "Wow, I don't know anyone who talks like that."

Anyway, on a light note today, I thought I'd share an email a writing friend sent me, which sort of addresses the whole dialogue thing, especially for women. If you're writing a contemporary novel, and you have any female characters at all, consider these guidelines when you're having them talk:

(1) Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

(2) Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.

(3) Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. This means something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine.

(4) Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don't Do It!

(5) Loud Sigh: This isn't actually a word, but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to # 3 for the meaning of nothing.)

(6) That's Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a woman can make to a man.. That's okay means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.

(7) Thanks: A woman is thanking you, do not question, or Faint. Just say you're welcome. (I want to add in a clause here - This is true, unless she says "Thanks a lot" - that is PURE sarcasm and she is not thanking you at all. DO NOT say "you're welcome" . that will bring on a "whatever").

(8) Whatever: Is a women's way of saying RAM IT!!!!!!

(9) Don't worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking "What's wrong?" For the woman's response refer to # 3.

Finally, it's worth nothing, especially if you're a writer, how differently men and women speak. At my last local RWA chapter meeting, one of our members told this story. She had spent some time interviewing the local police chief about murder investigations, crime scene procedures, etc. She wanted to thank him, so she bought him a plant and took it down to the office. He walked over, took it out of her hand, and said, "This an indoor?"

And that was it. They're creatures of few words, men. We'd do well to remember that...


Marianne Arkins said...

I've been told many times that my male characters are too verbose. OTOH, my life is full of verbose men, so ... there are definite exceptions.

I've seen that list before, and it cracks me up everytime, mostly because it's so true!

Mel said...

That list was funny. I'd like to add.
"Fine. You're right and I'm wrong."
Which means, "you're an idiot and my mother was right about you."

Allie Boniface said...

Ha - Mel, I love that addition - even more, I love your translation of it!

windycindy said...

Morning, My husband would tell you that all of those words ring true for me. I am really good at sighing! It gets me more attention that almost anything.....Cindi

Dad said...

Those words are as true today as they were in **62 when I proposed and married your mother.


Virginia said...

I loved your little sayings. I you just don't know how ofter I use the one. Don't worry about it I got it. Because if it going to get done I am the one that is going to have to do it.