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I've read the "On writing" and other valuable positions. I've learnt all about unnecessary adverbs and repetitions. I can make words of my characters sound strong and natural.

Whereas most of writing guides I encountered focus on making dialogue less dull I'm afraid I went too far in the opposite direction.

The conversations I write seem too intense and short. It's almost like a punchline in response to a punchline in response to a punchline. Every sentence coming out of my heroes mouth is a strong statement conveying a lot about themselves, their opinion and decisions.

Single lines seem interesting, quotable and probably would do just fine in movies. But I aspire to write books and my guts tell me I should work on this matter. While reading my dialogues I have a feeling, that they are a bit exhausting. A reader needs to absorb a lot of information fast. The dramatic change happens during two pages scene and it's just too rapid. In the end the conversations as a whole seem a bit unnatural because no one in real life exchange ideas at such a rate.

The whole thing reminds me of a time before I learnt the "show not tell" rule. Then I also produced too little text for an action presented. I have practiced and now am satisfied with a length of my stories. Unfortunately it doesn't exceed to dialogues in particular.

Let me give you an example. The following scene takes place in a plane between a stewardess and a young man. I got rid of all the bits.

Please keep in mind, that I'm not a native English speaker and I write in a different language. I did my best with the translation though.

'Good morning... Hi. I just wanted to let you know we have free sits in the first class.'

'So?'

'I thought maybe you'd want one. You can sit comfortably there. And talk.'

'I paid for the seat 22C.'

'Yes, but...'

'I can imagine first class is more enjoyable. If I became rich, I will always book there.'

'I don't get it.'

'I don't want anything for free. I prefer to earn it.'

Pause. The boy:

'I miss something. Can you help me?'

'Sure.'

'I'm really thirsty. Can you bring me some water?'

Stewardess comes back with a water and wine.

'I wanted only water.'

'I'm also thirsty. Your name is Leon, isn't it?'

'Yes. And yours?'

'Caroline. Are you a model?'

'Everybody asks this question.'

'You're so beautiful... I'm sorry!'

'I'd rather be a garbage man. I despise models.'

'Why?'

'They are useless. They don't exist. Imagine I do modeling. I would be on a billboard downtown. What difference would it make? Mo or someone else, who's gonna even notice. Do you agree with me?'

'I don't know... I've never thought about it this way.'

'You did. Let me prove it to you. When you think of a typical model, what's the first adjective that comes to your mind? It's dull, right? That's what everybody thinks of them. Pretty, but dumb.'

Pause. The boy:

'How about you? Have you always worked as a stewardess?'

'Yes.'

'How long?'

'I started at uni. Four years ago I changed the airline. I don't know any other job.'

'Are you satisfied?'

'Maybe, I don't know. I have nothing to compare it to. Sometimes I wish my life was more stable.'

'But people respect you, don't they? You are necessary. It's not another bullshit job.'

'I'm glad you admire my work.'

'I'm jealous. I could have never thought so of myself.'

'I'm sure you did plenty of good work.'

'Well I haven't. I never got a chance. They always say I'm too young and unexperienced. Bullshit. They keep me at distance out of envy.'

That's why I'm on this plane. I'm going to do something great.'

'I got to go.'

'Sure.'

'The flight is long. Maybe you will change your mind.'

So here we learn so much. The protagonist is extremely pretty and actually annoyed with everybody pointing it out. He's a bit immature yet on a task to prove himself capable. The stewardess on the other side is attracted to him and a bit shy.

Doesn't sound like you've learnt all of that from a stranger in a five minute talk, does it? At least to me this dialogue is not satisfying even though I got a pretty valuable information.

As I want to improve my writing, but don't know which way to go I will welcome any feedback and highly appreciate any advice.

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  • What you are asking is a critique, and this is off topic here. Your dialogue looks like a screenplay, not a fiction book, I encourage you to look into that aspect.
    – Alexander
    Apr 1 at 18:30
  • What do you mean when you say, “ I got rid of all the bits.”? If this is your final dialogue then Alexander is right. But even a screenplay has setting narrative. You can’t just erase all descriptors without also erasing all emotion.
    – Vogon Poet
    Apr 1 at 21:55
  • Yes. Aside from other good suggestions, you should cut all your explanations. For instance "If I became rich, I will always book there." Let the reader work to figure out the reason for the actions.
    – Erk
    Apr 3 at 2:47

2 Answers 2

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I don't mean to be brutal, but this is not good good dialogue. It doesn't make sense, for one. And it appears to be just two talking heads, there is very little description here to build a visual scene, which is what you want to do in a novel.

It doesn't sound realistic at all. It doesn't sound like the writer has ever flown. And it is quite transparent as an information dump.

"Good morning... Hi."

  1. Good morning is already a greeting. Why the ellipsis and "hi?" It's redundant.

  2. Saying "So?" is just rude; and it is obvious if the stewardess says there are free seats in first class, it is an offer to move. The appropriate response, if you don't want the free seat, "No thank you."

At worst, "Do you mean free as in available to buy, or free as in I can move for no charge?" But you wouldn't say even that, if you don't want to sit in first class. "No thank you" solves the issue whether they are available to buy or free of charge. You would not ask this question if you were not interested in moving.

I don't get it.

The stewardess will not argue with or question his claim. If somebody doesn't want the seat, the stewardess moves on to offer it to somebody else. And would probably offer it first to the least comfortable person in coach, anyway.

Pause. The boy:

'I miss something. Can you help me?'

'Sure.'

'I'm really thirsty. Can you bring me some water?'

This is a waste of time. She's a stewardess. She doesn't care why you want water. These four lines can be "Can you bring me some water?" or something similar. You could have combined this with the refusal;

"No thank you. But when you get a chance, can I get some water?"

Stewardess comes back with a water and wine.

'I wanted only water.'

Why is he saying this? She's a stewardess. She serves passengers. Presumably somebody else wants wine, His only response should be "thank you" as he reaches for the bottle of water. (It will always be a bottle.)

'I'm also thirsty. Your name is Leon, isn't it?'

No, never. A stewardess will not drink wine on the job. Ever. If she is an alcoholic, perhaps she will sneak something in restroom, but she will never drink openly.

This line could probably be, "You're Leon, right? I'm Caroline."

'Caroline. Are you a model?'

She's a stewardess. They fly constantly. They have no time to be models.

'Everybody asks this question.'

No, they don't. Very few people will ask if a pretty woman is a model, especially if she is obviously working another job.

'You're so beautiful... I'm sorry!'

This is unrealistic. What is he sorry for, he doesn't know that he's offended her yet.

'I'd rather be a garbage man. I despise models.'

This conversation is just awkward, it isn't natural. And why would somebody despise models?

'They are useless. They don't exist. Imagine I do modeling. I would be on a billboard downtown. What difference would it make? Me or someone else, who's gonna even notice. Do you agree with me?'

Far too long, and downright irrational.

'They are useless'? They sell clothing, they are highly paid, they are not useless to their employers.

'They don't exist'? Of course models exist.

'What difference would it make?' Well, it would earn you more money.

'Me or someone else, who's gonna even notice.' Yourself? The person that is happier hiring you instead of someone else?

'I don't know... I've never thought about it this way.'

'You did. Let me prove it to you. When you think of a typical model, what's the first adjective that comes to your mind? It's dull, right? That's what everybody thinks of them. Pretty, but dumb.'

Again, not everyone, and when people think of a typical model, the first adjective that comes to mind is not 'dull', it is 'sexy' or 'pretty' or, as Leon himself proved earlier, 'beautiful'.

'How about you? Have you always worked as a stewardess?'

'Yes.'

'How long?'

Too much exchange.

'How long have you been a stewardess?'

'Always. But only four years on this airline.'

'Are you satisfied?'

After the previous response, this would likely be 'Have you ever considered something else?'

'Maybe, I don't know. I have nothing to compare it to. Sometimes I wish my life was more stable.'

First, people tend to know if they like their job, and second, of course she has seen other jobs and can compare. And third, this is irrational: If she wishes her life was more stable, she IS comparing her job to more stable jobs!

'But people respect you, don't they? You are necessary. It's not another bullshit job.'

'I'm glad you admire my work.'

These sound unrealistic. Stewardesses are mostly thought of as waitresses in the sky. That does not make for respect. They know more than that and can respond to emergencies, but those skills are seldom used or seen.

'I'm jealous. I could have never thought so of myself.'

'I'm sure you did plenty of good work.'

Why is she sure about this? He's a random guy on the plane. She sees thousands of them.

'Well I haven't. I never got a chance. They always say I'm too young and unexperienced. Bullshit. They keep me at distance out of envy.'

That's why I'm on this plane. I'm going to do something great.'

Apparently this is the boy talking twice in a row, but that isn't clear from your text. If it is, why is it in two lines?

'I got to go.'

'Sure.'

'The flight is long. Maybe you will change your mind.'

The whole conversation is much too long and much too personal for a stewardess and a passenger, unless the plane is nearly empty. Even then, stewardesses will tend to be near the very front of the plane, where their station is, not hanging out in the middle. or up in First Class, to be available to provide better service there.

You would be far better off if your protagonist's conversation was with the passenger sitting next to them. I have had conversations with fellow passengers dozens of times; people get bored and want to chat. They ask what you do, you ask what they do, where they are headed, if they are coming home or leaving, etc.

In those dozens of flights, I have never once had a conversation of more than one or two lines with a steward or stewardess, except for one accidental one: She was sitting next to me, not dressed as a stewardess or working. She was catching a flight to visit her parents, a free perk for a stewardess if there were unsold seats, at least at that time. I did not know that when we began talking.

If it is important for your girl to be a stewardess, I'd suggest a conversation like that. She IS a stewardess, but not on duty. She can drink alcohol. Get you extra cookies. And you've got three hours to talk.

And instead of asking her if she is a model, just have her make a flirty game of it.

The boy said, "What do you do?"

"Well... How about you guess?"

"You look like an actress."

She laughed. "I wish. I can't act!"

"Oh. A model?"

"Strike two. Then I'd have to be graceful, and always look bored." She makes a haughty passive face, but then grins. He grins back.

"Then I give up."

"I'm a theoretical physicist at Harvard University!"

Leon is surprised. "Really?"

She laughs again. "No. I'm a stewardess! I'm on vacation, flying home for my Dad's sixtieth birthday. You know we fly free, if there are empty seats."

"Now I don't know what to believe."

She nods toward the front. "Alicia and Britt are working this flight, wait and see. They'll call me by name."

"Then I'll believe you. I'm Leon, by the way."

He holds out his right hand to shake, but it is awkward sitting beside each other. Caroline just briefly clasps his hand with both of hers.

"Caroline."

Something more like that. The point is not to be compact, the point is to have a realistic sounding conversation, that flows. And you probably don't even want this much, if Caroline is not important to the story later. Then this would just be an information dump. Any long conversation needs to have a plot purpose, in this case, perhaps, introducing Leon to Caroline as an important part of the plot or a subplot (like a love story).

When you are writing, always remember that people that read novels like to read. They aren't counting words, they want to be immersed in your imagined reality.

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Add more space by describing the communication, not just the words

Dialogue doesn’t mean just spoken words, because nobody communicates with only words. Facial expressions, body gestures, sighing, hand waves, and so many adjectives and adverbs paint the whole dialogue. Dialogue is communication

Let’s try a lump of dialogue with only words, and then with communication:

This is taken from the classic, The Great Gatsby:

  1. With speaking only:

I told her how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on my way East, and how a dozen people had sent their love through me.

“Do they miss me?”

“The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there’s a persistent wail all night along the north shore.”

“How gorgeous! Let’s go back, Tom. Tomorrow! You ought to see the baby.”

“I’d like to.”

“She’s asleep. She’s three years old. Haven’t you ever seen her?”

“Never.”

“Well, you ought to see her. She’s—”

Tom interrupted, “What you doing, Nick?”

“I’m a bond man.”

“Who with?”

I told him.

“Never heard of them,”

  1. Now, watch F. Scott Fitzgerald complete the communication, With full dialogue:

I told her how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on my way East, and how a dozen people had sent their love through me.

“Do they miss me?” she cried ecstatically.

“The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there’s a persistent wail all night along the north shore.”

“How gorgeous! Let’s go back, Tom. Tomorrow!” Then she added irrelevantly:

“You ought to see the baby.”

“I’d like to.”

“She’s asleep. She’s three years old. Haven’t you ever seen her?”

“Never.”

“Well, you ought to see her. She’s—” Tom Buchanan, who had been hovering restlessly about the room, stopped and rested his hand on my shoulder.

“What you doing, Nick?”

“I’m a bond man.”

“Who with?”

I told him.

“Never heard of them,” he remarked decisively.

This annoyed me.

The very first thing you must be doing to understand how to write well, is read often. You will see these techniques as you experience them first hand.

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