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Author Topic: Being Creative: 7 Deadly (Dialogue) Sins  (Read 2503 times)

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on: 03:44:58 AM 01/01/13
So you've come up with a premise, you've plotted things out, let's assume you have all the underpinnings in place and are now about to set off writing your story/screenplay/comic script/etc.

Admittedly, I've only done a bit of editing in my scattered "career", but in reading the work of others and watching discussions/reviews, I've come up with a list of "7 Deadly Dialogue Sins".

Here's what to avoid...

7.) Name-Dropping

So you set out to write your story... it's kind of scary, to be out here all on your own in the vast wasteland of the blank page screen. What better way to feel a sense of connectivity than referencing someone else's more established/popular body of work?

Example: "Wow, you built your own suit of armor! Just like Iron Man!"

Why it sucks: Unless you're writing a Marvel comic, this is going to be a real groaner that will most likely pull the reader right out of the story. What better way to destroy the world you've created than reminding everyone the world isn't real? Plus... seriously, who would say that?

"Hi Barry. Whoa, you have a rope. You're a regular Wonder Woman!"

The Fix: How about actually using what you'd say to someone in that situation? Anything from "What kind of lunatic does that?" to "When do I get a turn?"

As a sidenote, this CAN work if its cross-media... like a comic character quipping "Yeah, this worked out so well in JAWS", or a movie character lauding the Rolling Stones... but use it sparingly and only when it's natural.

6.) Clunkiness

Alright, maybe you know what you want to say... what you HAVE to establish... but you can't seem to get at it. What's wrong with just throwing out an awkward blurb for the sake of getting it out there?

Example: "The killer always has an inflatable Llama on him, like Jim happens to also."

Why it sucks: Clunky dialogue makes your character sound like an idiot.

The Fix: Relax. Step away from the script for a while. If you have any friends or relatives available, and they don't already hate your annoying ass, roleplay the scene with them just a bit. Maybe they'll naturally say: "Jim and the killer are both known to carry inflatable Llamas."

5.) Cloning

You have three characters... an urban street punk, a suburban housewife, and the leader of a zealot cult located in the deep south. They all talk exactly like you.


PUNK: "What's up, guys?"
HOUSEWIFE: "Not much, bro."
CULTIST: "Yeah nothing popping here, either."

Why it sucks: Duh.

The Fix: Don't slip TOO far into stereotypes! Yes, the housewife might say: "Oh, dear!" and the punk might say: "What the F-" but it's good to avoid insulting the audience with paper-thin facades. Instead, figure out the character's overall outlook on life, their general mood, and/or their upbringing. It's not as hard as it sounds. You don't have to draw up psychological profiles. Sometimes "He's well-spoken, but always angry because he doesn't feel life gives him a fair shake" is enough.

4.) Inconsistency

Ah, the ugly mutant twin of #3 rears its head. As your story develops, you might start getting a better idea of your characters... or you may completely LOSE them. Either way, their dialogue might then end up vastly different as the story progresses.


Page One, Steve says: "Gosh, this sure is one humdinger of a mystery! I wonder what spooky clues I'll find next!"

Page Two Hundred, Steve says: "You may all be wondering why I conviened this clandestine meeting. As you may have surmised, I believe the killer to be in this room. You need not attempt to flee, my friends, as the authorities are already setting upon this mansion as we speak."

Why it sucks: If your reader is paying attention, they're going to come to a realization. Somewhere back there, you left your character behind and started unveiling the story with your own hand. When a voice changes so dramatically, it's clear that you're simply unveiling the story on autopilot. Why does the character suddenly get uncharacteristically dramatic, for example? Because you think your ending is super dramatic and it's clouding your storytelling.

The Fix: Make sure you're mentally "in the head" of the character whenever you're writing their dialogue. If your character is a complete goofball, try in some small fashion to be goofy when you're writing them. If they're slick and unphased by life, then try to remove yourself from the drama of your story and write them "cold". The best thing you can do when writing a character's dialogue is to let THEM speak, not to put words in their mouth.

3.) Wastefulness

Oh man, you need to write a bunch of pages. Like... a LOT. This would be so much easier if you threw in a conversation about paperclip sizes or had three pages of a character slowly sipping their coffee. People will probably think it's all artsy and will probably appreciate a nice, calm conversation about wart removal as a buffer between action scenes.

Why it sucks: We really, really won't. This is especially awful in screenplays and comic scripts.

Example: Harriet studied the manual. She turned one page, then the next. She licked her fingers because the pages were kind of slippery. She turned another page. None of this was making sense. After a few more pages, she was completely lost. Harriet decided to go back to the beginning of the manual, so she flipped each page back to where it was until she saw the cover once more. After glancing over this cover, she realized this was the Chinese side. Cautiously, meticulously, she inverted the manual until the English version was staring back at her. She turned one page, then the next...

The Fix: If you're running into this problem... Maybe think about writing a short story.

2.) Droning

If you don't use a bunch of words all the time, people will get bored... or worse, they'll think you're stupid! So each character must talk at length about what's going on at that moment, their thoughts, their dreams, anything.


Page One, Panel One: Hyperboy walks up to Evil No-Good Squidfaced Man and punches him right in the face!

Sound Effects: (punch) THWAKK!

HYPERBOY: I see through your evil plan, Evil No-Good Squidfaced Man, and I'm simply not going to allow it. Using the world's Gold supply to furnish your own evil bachelor pad is not only amoral, but really kind of stupid and pointless! First of all, all that gold is going to be way too heavy, and your apartment is going to collapse onto your downstairs neighbor! Secondly...

Why it sucks: This is different from Wastefulness. Wastefulness is wasting the time of the reader with useless information and/or visials to pad out your work and buy some time between the scenes you actually WANTED to write. Droning is actually relevent dialogue bloated to the point people will just skip over it and miss that crucial detail you were trying to get across.

The Fix: There's nothing to do but try to whittle down your dialogue to the essentials WITHOUT losing the style/flavor you want to achieve. For example, you don't HAVE to bring it down to a flavorless statement like "I don't like pie", but it's also good to say that without using 60 words. "I've never liked pie", or "I've hated pie since I was a kid", or even "Pie?! Eeeuugh!!" can say everything you want without giving the reader (or worse, a comic artist or letterer) a migraine.

1.) Arrogance

You're sexy and you know it.

Example: This article. Probably.

Why it sucks: In the telemarketing business, they say that people can "hear your smile". Basically, when you're smiling, your voice sounds different, and people pick up on that. It's the same here, if you're arrogant about things, not willing to rework your product, putting "what sounds cool" over "what's real", people will hear it in your work. There's nothing more embarassing and sad in the written world than picking up a self-published comic or novel and spotting the hundreds of places where the creator should have been a bit more humble and gone back to refine their skills. Especially when the book jacket is essentially the writer talking in third person.

"Peter Fulcrum is an up-and-coming writer with a long list of accomplishments in the field of being a genius."

The Fix: ALIEN.

A - ASK PEOPLE for critique.
L - Listen to them. >:(
I - Identify real problems. (As opposed to their personal preference.)
E - Edit your work accordingly.
N - Now you're probably ready.

So yeah, that's about it. There are waaayyyyyyyy more opportunities for you to go wrong, but these are MY "7 Deadly Sins". It's subjective! Maybe you name-drop and everyone lauds you for the clever pop culture reference. Maybe you waste a few pages on a discussion about what Europeans call a type of hamburger and it's hailed as genius.

At the end of the day, there's an 8th sin, and that's adhering to the "laws" of writing when you know how to press the boundaries in a new and exciting way.

Did I just undo this entire article? ... The trick is, you REALLY have to know it's going to work.
If I should live until I wake, I pray the web my death to fake.


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