“So, you want to know about dialogue, do you?” asked the man in the tattered fedora, leaning back in his worn velvet chair, the putrid green of which practically shot daggers into Miriam’s eyes —

WRONG. NO NO NO. COPULATING NO. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU STUPID, WORTHLESS PIECE OF MECONIUM.

Sorry. I guess I should explain a little. My name is Kristofer Paoalilinei, the infamous author of the great Inheiritance Cycle. I’m here to tell you idiots a little bit about how to make dialogue real good. Like what I do.

Lesson 1: Do NOT favour long descriptions. I know you think it sounds really cool to give your reader a full description, complete with eight-thousand adjectives and each character’s every motion down to the twitching of a booger lodged firmly on the protagonists nosehair as he exhales grittily, his mind swirling with — NO! STOP ME NOW! DO NOT MAKE ME! deep breath Okay, better now. A reader has to know what’s going on, but not EVERYTHING that’s going on. Sure, sometimes it’s pretty cool to throw in a little bit about fiery cigar ashes being flicked and that sort of thing, but the key is NO BOXERS. Why? Because you’re keeping it brief. Yeah, I did.

Anyway, one must break up the description so that it flows naturally and adds to the dialogue, rather than detracting from it.

Lesson 2: If there is a joke, DO NOT EXPLAIN IT TO YOUR AUDIENCE. THEY EITHER GET IT OR THEY ARE MONGOLOIDS. Mongoloids, haha. It’s funny because it’s racist and offensive! Er, offensive independent of its inherent racist offense. Or in combination with. You know what, forget it.

Lesson 3: FLOW FLOW FLOW. You must GO with it. YO. Okay, that rhyming’s lame, I KNOW. …Curses and damnation. Point being, if your dialogue is either a) too short and choppy, or b) too long and boring, it will either feel like a five year old is writing it, or like a mediocre fantasy author is writing it. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, in terms of literary quality.

Lesson 4: MAKE UR PEEPLE TALK REEL GUD. LIEK SRSLY. While most people are too coitusing stupid to be able to speak in a manner that lends itself to writing and storytelling, and thus must alter their patterns of speech for their literary creation, it is important that the literary mode be broken in the dialogue portions so that it sounds like human beings are actually talking, and not drunk teenage girls at the Dickens Fair. “Thou corset it coming off, hahahaha! hic

Now, an example. Let’s see how it comes together — hopefully like me and your mom last night.

“So,” asked John, looking her over incredulously, “you’ve decided to become an official llamaphile?”

She hmphed impatiently and flicked back her hair. “You know I’ve had these leanings for a long time now, it’s just time that I…” she paused to think. “It’s time that I embraced myself, you know? And by embracing myself I mean embracing them.”

“We always did say there was a little llama in you,” replied John, half-grimacing, half-laughing.

Brett eyed the floor uncomfortably, and instinctively reached into his pocket where his cigarettes used to be.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked John, turning to Brett.

“I… I…” the shame and sense of self-loathing was clear in Brett’s eyes. “I’m a liberal.”

The utter silence that filled the room seemed to Brett to be louder than the simultaneous “You vagina!” blurted by Mary and John.

As you can see, description is interjected into the dialogue at different points, for different lengths, and the physical description is slipped into actions (like the hair being flicked back) so it feels like something is happening, rather than merely being exposited.

In addition, this mixing and brevity (but appropriate detailedness) of the descriptions, the natural (if intentionally campy) flow of the conversation, made it seem like real people were talking.

Finally, the humor, while admittedly crass, was not explicated, even where a fast reader might miss the “llama in you” remark. Again, if a reader does not get that, they deserved to be an exception to my policy of Pro-Life.

You may have noticed me favouring the English spellings of various things. Despite the apparent inappropriateness of said language, I prefer it to Americanized English because it feels more sincere and unnecessarily voweled. The only reason my tomes are not spelt in a similar manner is that my publishers felt it might not work out so well with my largely American, largely eight-year-old audience. Knopf wasn’t sure how confused they would be by the alternate spellings — scheol, my assistant editor was sure anyone dumb enough to buy “that piece of feculence would just have to put the book down and go straight to Merriam Webster before their brain exploded all over the walls of their rectum.”

Comment

  1. SlyShy on 22 September 2008, 23:36 said:

    I’m like your biggest fan.

  2. DrAlligator on 23 September 2008, 00:06 said:

    Nuh uh, I’m his biggest fan.

  3. Elanor Sarralyn on 23 September 2008, 02:15 said:

    I use British spelling. Pretentious American, I am. :D

    I love the various euphemisms for swearwords.

    And the boxer-brief thing made me laugh. And then groan.

  4. DrAlligator on 23 September 2008, 13:44 said:

    Briefs aren’t as comfy as boxers…

  5. Christopher Paolini on 24 September 2008, 01:09 said:

    Elanor: Sly wanted me to class it up, so I dusted off the old thesaurus.

    Dr. Alligator: I wouldn’t know. I go commando.

  6. Lady Stardust on 26 September 2008, 15:34 said:

    Commando-ing is actually pretty liberating

  7. Undertow on 26 September 2008, 18:08 said:

    God Bless all the llamaphiles.

  8. Snow White Queen on 6 October 2008, 00:05 said:

    Paoalilinei or whatever you said…haha

    usually when i mock him, i say ‘paninihead’. but then, paninis are yummy, so maybe they don’t deserve such insult.

  9. Kristopher Paoalilinei on 6 October 2008, 00:10 said:

    The only fault with the name is it needs umlauts. On like, every vowel.

    I had the same food problem, though — I used to call him “Kung-Paolini,” but kung-pao chicken is delicious.

  10. Virgil on 6 October 2008, 21:40 said:

    I want to be able to put umlauts on consonants. Just once or twice in a book, just to mess with people. Yeah, I know they’re supposed to be on vowels.