Sunday 1 November 2009

WRITING TIP: Examples of Types of Dialogue

In the comments section to my previous writing tip on DIALOGUE, some readers asked for examples of the different types of dialogue. Here they are, taken from the excellent book called “Writing Dialogue” by Tom Chiarella:

Directed Dialogue:

Excerpt from a conversation between a radio talk show host and a listener [Pg 23-26].

“Who’s next? Gil on the car phone. What’s shakin’, Gil?”
Dead air.
“Speak, Gil.”
“Is this…?”
“Go on.”
“You’re on the JOC.”
“Am I on?”
“Not for long, Gil, the way we’re going. This is supposed to be entertainment.”

As Chiarella points out, the radio show host is the active presence in the conversation. He directs the conversation to force the listener, Gil, into speaking.

Misdirected Dialogue:
Excerpt from three people in a restaurant [Pg 31-32].

1. I need a beer. Could I have a beer.
2. I saw Marnie today.
1. Beer, please.
3. Where did you see her?
1. You know. By the fire station.

3. No kidding.
1. Her hair has grown.
3. I would imagine. How do you know?
1. I’m not blind.
2. Are you eating?

The conversation meanders across several topics, with random comments being made by other speakers. This type of dialogue most closely resembles real conversation.

Interpolated Dialogue:
Excerpt from Anton Chekov’s “The Lady With the Pet Dog” [Pg 27 – 29].

Already he was tormented by a strong desire to share his memories with someone. But, in his home it was impossible to talk of love, and he had no one to talk to outside;… And what was there to talk about? He hadn’t loved then, had he? Had there been anything beautiful, poetical, edifying or simply interesting in his relations with Anna Sergeyevna? …

One evening, coming out of the physician’s club with an official with whom he had been playing cards, he could not resist saying:
“If you only knew what a fascinating woman I became acquainted with at Yalta!”
The official got his sledge and was driving away, but turned suddenly and shouted:
“Dmitry Dmitrovich!”
“What is it?”
“You were right this evening: the sturgeon was a bit high.”

Those words, so commonplace, for some reason moved Gurov to indignation, and struck him as degrading and unclean. What savage manner, what mugs! What stupid nights, what dull humdrum days! Frenzied gambling, gluttony, drunkenness, continual talk always about the same things! Futile pursuits and conversations always about the same topics take up the better part of one’s time, the better part of one’s strength, and in the end there is left a life clipped and wingless, an absurd mess, and there is no escaping or getting away from it – just as though one were in a prison.

In this example, just as Dmitri is about to reveal the high passion in his heart, Chekov uses interpolated dialogue to create a moment of inner clarity. In the commonplace reality of the dialogue about an overripe fish dinner, Dmitri has an epiphany about the ordinariness of his life. In the narrative, Chekov strips Dmitri’s life to its dull essence and what remains unsaid is that this woman is merely his attempt to escape the boredom of a life he knows he cannot escape.

Modulated Dialogue:
Excerpt from a lunch between a young girl, her erstwhile boyfriend and his father [Pg 34-35].

“Holy smoke,” I said, to be polite. In truth, I thought that was a pretty good bargain. Suppose he botched a liposuction or misaligned an implant? If I were an insurance company I would not have insured [him] for any amount.

He went on to say that some fathers, himself and Ronald Reagan included had a lot at stake…“My heart aches for the President,” he said.

“Excuse me,” I said. I wanted seconds before they wheeled the roast beef away. It was already three o’clock, and the steamboat round was carved down the middle like a saddle. The waiter in charge of slicing meat was standing over by the aquarium with two other waiters. I waited politely by the meat, plate in hand, but they were engaged in an argument, and a partially melted seahorse made of ice stood between me and them. They didn’t notice me.

In this scene, dialogue is used to lead the reader into specific details in the restaurant, as observed by the protagonist, and helps create a setting that emphasises the father’s dialogue for the inflated egotism it is (the partially melted seahorse implies faded glory).

Each of these examples shows that, irrespective of the type used, expertly crafted dialogue can add an extra dimension to your story and your characters. Which dialogue type do you use most often in your writing?


Robyn Campbell said...

Ann, love these examples. Wonderful lessons you are giving here. I want to craft dialogue that is natural. This will help. Yet again I'm copying and pasting Ann's posts.:) Thanks for the assistance. :)

I am going to start the book after I finish a book that another blogging pal Susan Mills nudged me to read through her posts.

With all of this gentle nudging I should be set. I need it too. Yesterday was NOT a good writing day. Read my post I'm going to write for tomorrow, if you get a chance. I learned some things from it. But I don't want to go through it again. :)

septembermom said...

Ann, I learn so much from I visit you. Thank you! As a poet, I haven't ventured into any kid of dialogue, though I'm playing around with the idea. Love all your examples. Wasn't Chekhov great?

Lady Glamis said...

I mostly use modulated dialogue! Interesting! Thank you for posting these, Ann. :)

Marilyn Brant said...

Ann, this was fascinating! I use lots of dialogue, but I never knew until I read your post that there were different "types." I flip back and forth, mostly between directed and modulated, I think. But it would be fun to try out a scene using the other styles, just for an interesting exercise. :)

A Cuban In London said...

What a cracking post. As someone who has spent many years writing his debut novel (oh, yes, too many to count, dear!) I was always fearful of dialogues and how and where to place them. I can go to extremes in my writing, especially short stories, either they are too full of conversations or bereft of them completely, only to be replaced by narration and description.

Loved all the examples. The second struck me as the one I default to the most.

Greetings from London.

Ann Victor said...

ROBYN: Hope today was a better day, writing and otherwise! Will pop over to read your post.

SEPTEMBERMOM: I’ve been fascinated by the Chekov story since I saw the wrenching “The Reader” with Kate Winslet. Definitely a master at work.

LADY GLAMIS: I also favour modulated dialogue.

MARILYN: I didn’t know that there different types of dialogue either until I started reading Chiarella’s book. I’ll soon find out for myself which types you use as my copy of “According to Jane” has finally arrived! Yay!

A CUBAN IN LONDON: I’m not too fond of dialogue - I much prefer narrative exposition which, of course, doesn’t always make my stories as easy to read as stories that have a lot of dialogue.

Davin Malasarn said...

Ann, thanks so much for these examples. They are very helpful, especially taken with your previous post. My current story has far more dialog than I'm used to writing, so I'm going to come back to this often.

lotusgirl said...

Great examples. It's nice to see it all laid out like this. Thanks. I use modulated dialogue most of the time.

Rebecca said...

again one awesome example after another,

as a thank you for all of this I given you an award hope you enjoy it.

Ann Victor said...

DAVIN: I also found Chiarelli’s examples very useful. Hope the revisions of your current story are progressing well!

LOTUS GIRL: I’ve never actually thought about dialogue before, but it was useful to see them defined. Although that can also have its dangers. One doesn’t want to always be analysing the dialogue in your story rather than just letting it flow naturally.

REBECCA: Nice to have you visit again. And thanks so much for the endorsement. I definitely did enjoy it!! :):)

jdcoughlin said...

Ann, your posting really hit home with me. I've studied Stephen King, his techniques and his book, On Writing, in order to help me better prefect my manuscript, but I love you examples. Awkward dialog just ruins a great story. Thanks!

Ann Victor said...

JD: Welcome! The King book on writing is very useful. And I agree, awkward dialogue can kill an otherwise excellent story.

Robyn Campbell said...

Ann, thanks for the much needed hugs. They mean the world to me! I treasure your friendship. :)

Anita said...

Ann, you need to get paid for this would take me about two years to write a post this well done.

I particularly love the radio example...seeing this in a book would be awesome.

Ann Victor said...

ROBYN: Hope this week goes well.:)

ANITA: LOL! If only you were an editor...the whole of the radio example (on Pg 23-26 of Chiarella's book) is incredibly effective and well-worth a read.