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I always find myself trying to make dialogues perfect. For example, the perfect advice, the perfect punch line, the perfect joke or irony. OR maybe if the characters talk continuously without stopping, without making coherent phrases or having breaks.

I wonder if the reader feels that the story is kind of fake if every dialogue is really too perfect.

Example 1:

"So you are a kind of super hero? she asked.

"Maybe." he said, after putting on his glassed, his leather jacket, and getting on his motorbike.

Example 2:

"So you are a kind of super hero? she asked.

"I'm — not very sure," he said, "I'm not sure if I can save anyone."

Any thoughts?

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5 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Your two examples are from very different people. The first guy is confident, mocking, and ironic. The second guy is insecure, nervous, and looking for validation.

So as iajrz points out, it depends on your characters. Would that particular character always have le mot juste on the tip of his tongue, or does he suffer from l'esprit de l'escalier like most people? As long as you're consistent, whichever one you pick is fine.

I would caution that if all your characters speak perfectly all the time, unless you're doing it that way on purpose and tipping your hand to the reader about it somehow (for example, if you were writing about a kind of utopia where everyone was trained to speak beautifully), I think it will start to sound fake. If you feel like you can't tell, mention it to your beta readers when you hand off your first draft that it's a weakness and you would like them to be on the lookout for it.

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And even if your inconsistent... say, speech pattern change totally for one core character a third into the story. Other characters of course will (and have to if you don't want them to seem dim) pick up on it. And it turns out the character was replaced with a simulacrum. Or got hit on the head. Or something. You can do anything... you just have to convince your readers to suspend their disbelief. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 21 '11 at 15:14
    
Hmm, again I find that this "forum" (which it isn't) is full of writing prompts. HELP! They're everywhere! ;-) You just have to pick em up. *goes to hunt for a 'writing prompt' question. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 21 '11 at 15:16
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Dialog is a shortcut for conveying details about your story. For example:

"I felt like my arms were going to fall off because I was carrying those heavy grocery bags.", said Alice as she flopped down onto the sofa.

I could have gone with something like this instead:

Alice started to pick up the bags that the clerk had filled with her groceries. This store is becoming so familiar these days - teenagers always seem to be hungry - but this beats getting dinner from some fast food place almost every night. Walking home, Alice went through her To-Do list - start dinner, get the mail, pay some bills tonight. Although Spring just started it warmed up very quickly, making everyone sluggish. Everyone except for those that ran their air conditioner at home. Electricity costs so much these days, plus the groceries are adding up too. The sun was a little closer to the rooftops by the time Alice reached home. She heard the TV as she walked in, Bob is probably playing another game instead of doing his homework. Her arms ached as she sat down next to Bob. She was glad to see Bob - he's becoming a young man. Staring at Bob playing his game on TV, smiling a little as she drifted off to sleep.

Dialog is absent from the sample, yet it conveys a richer experience. Think about the world or scene you are trying to create and try to draw the reader in by telling the story as opposed to 'the facts' through dialog.

In terms of perfection when you use dialog, try to describe your character's typical traits in two or three words and drive their dialog and personality based on those words. For example, your character could be a 'born detective' so she could question everything, get easily distracted, and have a messy workspace. Your character's dialog would be more consistent without being boring because readers might be able to identify your character without you having to flag their dialog with the character's name.

Good luck with your story.

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I think allowing your characters to share these perfect quips would be helpful.

Personally, I love when characters can dish it out as well as take it. I don't feel like it's unreal. If anything, it makes more sense for witty people to hang out with other witty people. You start to develop chemistry.

If you have just one character who gets all the good lines, I think you'll have to work to make sure that people are going to really LIKE that character or s/he is going to get annoying.

Realize that the story world is not real world. We don't want to read how people really talk. We want something more. Hyper-reality. Otherwise we'd just go talk to our neighbors.

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I find this question strange.

If the dialogue is the perfect thing for the character - in other words, if that character was a living, breathing person, and this is 100% exactly what they would say - then you've achieved something most writers would kill for. I don't quite see how that could ever detract from your novel.

If the dialogue is perfect because it's what you, the author, wants to say, then that's a big problem. Don't put your words in the character's mouth, because it will never ring true, and that's when the reader smells a fake.

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If the author has something to say that doesn't fit any of the characters, maybe he should introduce a character who speaks the same way as the author, just for this purpose. –  Nick Dixon Aug 8 '12 at 11:41
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People should talk as people talk. If the flow is in character with, well, your character, then it's ok, it won't be less credible. But if, say, a street though is talking like a Duke... well, that'd not happen in real life, would it?

It can be always perfect for a character that is that kind of person; it would add to the story, let people know about the characters. It can be occasionally perfect for someone who has the right level of education, the right personality. Could be mock perfection, or ironic perfection.

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It won't happen in real life (mostly), but in a book? Everything goes, it just has to... match up. Feel right. Be believable. In-universe. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 21 '11 at 15:11
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