Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#1
Hi there, 

Writing dialogue has started to bug me quite a bit so I figured I'd ask the community. 

How long should a scene of dialogue be? I assume most writers want their dialogue to sound authentic, but how? 

Do you write a full build up pre-scene where characters greet each other? 

Do they just cut to the chase? 

Does all dialogue push the plot forward? Or are there just some points where your characters just want to have a convo that has nothing to do with the goal at hand? 

Do readers care about that? Etc. Etc. 

I know the answer will most likely be: It depends. . . But I'd like to know what you think. 

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#2
Maybe it's my musical background, but the way I have always done dialogue is that I like conversations to feel organic, not necessarily authentic because what is authentic anyway? But I've always tried my best to pace my dialogue in a way that ebs and flows between plot and random meandering. People do not always stay focused on the topic at hand we talk about random stuff from time to time or things not associated with the topic at all. To me I break it down as:

The Topic i.e. the Plot the Important thing

The Relationship i.e. the Relationship and establishing the relationship between the characters, this is those emotional beats, those emotional connections, those sweet or dramatic moments

The Meandering i.e. the topics that are not associated with the topic or the relationship at hand 

And I tried to weave this into a dance with my dialogue. Because for me as a reader, I often get bored if all the characters ever just focus on plot plot plot plot. Unless the plot is urgent, your characters are people. 

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#4

JeneClyde Wrote: Maybe it's my musical background, but the way I have always done dialogue is that I like conversations to feel organic, not necessarily authentic because what is authentic anyway? But I've always tried my best to pace my dialogue in a way that ebs and flows between plot and random meandering. People do not always stay focused on the topic at hand we talk about random stuff from time to time or things not associated with the topic at all. To me I break it down as:

The Topic i.e. the Plot the Important thing

The Relationship i.e. the Relationship and establishing the relationship between the characters, this is those emotional beats, those emotional connections, those sweet or dramatic moments

The Meandering i.e. the topics that are not associated with the topic or the relationship at hand 

And I tried to weave this into a dance with my dialogue. Because for me as a reader, I often get bored if all the characters ever just focus on plot plot plot plot. Unless the plot is urgent, your characters are people.
Hmm. I see. Good points. I tend to do the same (I hope): A little banter here and there. Then some setup for plot. But what about length? I believe that is what my main concern is. I fear my dialogue would be too much banter and not enough plot, and vice versa. Or maybe the scene in my mind is a quick interaction and characters move on, and they do not speak for the rest of the chapter. What are your takes on scenarios like that? 

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#6
Well, you hit the nail on the head with It depends imo.

But thats not very specific so to answer your questions a bit more sophisticatedly, here are my takes.


and0 Wrote: Does all dialogue push the plot forward? Or are there just some points where your characters just want to have a convo that has nothing to do with the goal at hand?


It depends on the purpose of the scene. Are you trying to establish characters? Show how they interact in more casual situations? In this case, absolutely give them a convo where they just chat, as giving audience members an understanding of who the characters are in low stakes situations makes them more likely to care about the outcome in high stakes situations. If you're writing a slice of life or a comedy, just having conversations can be more or less what readers come for, as in the case of slice of life, readers will may be looking for chill, low stakes environments like a simple conversation and in a comedy, so long as the conversation is funny, readers likely wont complain. However, is this a high stakes scene? Is there some information that really needs to be revealed, has a revelation had a profound effect on characters etc etc? In that case, dialogue should be straight to the point. There are exceptions, quips in the middle of fights don't drive the plot forward per se, but they still need to match the pacing. They can make a joke, and a character can respond, but if you don't get back to the action and the characters just keep talking about unimportant stuff while the audience was on the edge of the seat, thats going to feel jarring and take readers out of the action.


and0 Wrote: Do you write a full build up pre-scene where characters greet each other? 

Do they just cut to the chase?


Depends again on circumstances. If a character is meeting someone for the first time, or has just bumped into a character and you show that, it does feel natural for characters to greet each other, say hello, etc. If part of the characters meeting each other involves asking questions the audience already knows (i.e: asking whats happened to them since they last met and the audience has been watching that character do the things they would reveal to the other character (christ what a wordy sentence)) then its often best to include a line to the effect of X character caught up Y character on INFOMATION AUDIENCE KNOWS. There are exceptions. Would a character lie about infomation? Does the audience need a recap on said infomation?

Important to keep in mind is what a greeting says about a character? Is their greeting an enthusiastic "Hi!". Then that may convey that characters personality or mood. Do they cut straight to the chase and not say hello? They may be in a rush, moody, potentially socially awkward, or have been around a character so long they don't need to say hello. Do they say something like "Oh, its you again?" Then there may be personal history between the two characters. Introductory dialogue can be important.


and0 Wrote: How long should a scene of dialogue be?


Fully depends on the pacing of the scene. Are characters slowly putting together a mystery? Then the scene may be long, taking care to show thought process. Is it a fierce arguement? Then the scene may be short and sharp. Two friends catching up? Idk, kinda middling, depends on the mood and a lotta other factors. As does everything I say. There aren't any clear cut rules.


and0 Wrote: I assume most writers want their dialogue to sound authentic, but how?


A relatively easy way to make dialogue authentic is to give characters a unique voice, to give readers a clear sense of a characters personality, background and if they have a unique way of talking they seem more real as all of us have a unique way of talking. Its kinda hard for me to explain how I do this, its part instinct. In Deified, Aomy is somewhat awkward and lacks confidence and so often false starts sentences (e.g " I, er. I don’t think I…look good…enough to look godlike?”) and often says "I think (X STATEMENT)" instead of just "(X statement)" When she's around people she trusts this disappears, showing a change in personality. Naturum's more outgoing and so her dialogue will be written to have more energy, to be friendlier. She also says y'all and americanises some words despite being British, so she talks a different way to the other characters, so her speech feels unique. Scientia is trying to be dramatic so sometimes talks in an exaggerated way ("Then I shall be Sciencia") and because he's a posh nerd he uses big posh nerd words ("I will acquiesce to whatever you wish to do") Judging by the size of this paragrapgh, I think I let this point get away from me a bit. But yeah, unique voices, its more art than science. How should your character talk so that the audience gets who they are? If in doubt steal mannerisms from someone you know in real life (or even do your own take on the mannerisms of an existing character. All art is built on other works of art and so long as you're not completely plagiarizing, theft is totally rad.)

Whelp, hopefully you've found this wall of text at least vaguely useful. If you want more tips, I can dig up the powerpoint slides my uni used for their tips on how to write dialogue. It may not be 1:1 cos I'm studying screenwriting, not book writing, but it may still be useful. Last tip I have is listen to your instincts. Does a scene feel too long? Too short? Just kinda wrong? Does this character feel bland? Unrealistic? If so, listen. As someone whose presumably read a lot, or at least, consumed a lot of media, you will most likely have cultivated a sense of what feels right to you. It may take a bit of thought to identify what feels wrong, or you may have to reread things a couple times to be sure, but listening to your instincts is a good place to start. Ooh, also try reading dialogue out loud. Does it feel natural?

Thanks for giving me an excuse to ramble my thoughts about writing. Good luck!

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#7

and0 Wrote:
Paradoxcloud Wrote: Somewhere between silence and youjo senki.
Context/ examples please lol


One conversation 

Quote:Right before Tanya sinks back into her thoughts, a precise knock sounds on the door.

“First Lieutenant Serebryakov, requesting permission to enter, ma’am.”

“That’s fine. Come in.”

“Excuse me, Colonel. We’ve received word from the home country via the station.”

Lieutenant Serebryakov pops into the cabin with brisk movements. In her hand is one of the thick envelopes the General Staff tends to use for sealed mail.

“From the home country?”

“Yes, Colonel. It’s from the General Staff. And…someone who has just boarded the train is here to see you.”

“Someone here? To see me?”

“That’s no way to greet an old classmate, Colonel von Degurechaff.”

Tanya is about to open the envelope when the familiar voice makes its way inside; realizing whose it is, Tanya leaps to her feet.

How nice to see an old face. The man stands in the entrance to the compartment with a smile to hide how utterly exhausted he is.

“I’ve come to bug you. You’ll have to forgive me entering a lady’s sleeping compartment.”

“What a surprise. I never expected my esteemed colleague Lieutenant Colonel Uger to barge in on me. Don’t you know there’s an etiquette when visiting a woman’s room? If your wife knew you had such bad manners, she would surely be disappointed.”

Page|9 “Oh dear, to think I would upset even my beloved wife and child. What a pesky business military duties are. But orders must be followed—I’ll just have to curse my misfortune.”

We exchange friendly quips as we salute each other.

But he was supposed to laugh boldy. Unfortunately, Colonel Uger doesn’t seem to be equipped with a proper sense of humor. Perhaps he didn’t serve enough time on the front lines.

Colonel Uger isn’t the type to banter or make jokes naturally, and it seems he missed out on the opportunity to cultivate better comedic sensibilities on the battlefield.

“Ha-ha-ha. I hope this will be enough compensation to have you pretend this never happened.”

Then Tanya realizes something strange and freezes.

…Has someone who was never the type to make jokes picked up a sense of humor? Even if it’s a lousy one? That’s not a good sign at all.

Both Colonel Uger and I are straitlaced types. Even if I don’t know him well enough to make declarations about his character, I’m confident that he’s not the type to make jokes. The officers selected for war college are either idiosyncratic or sincere, like me.

Both Uger and I are on the serious, hardworking side. I deviated from—or I guess you could say acquired a sense of sarcasm from—my environment; a major factor was my harsh experiences on the forward-most line. War can’t be fought with a straight face, so I had to cultivate a sense of humor up there. But Colonel Uger shouldn’t have had the same need.

This is…extremely uncharacteristic of him. Why is he trying to joke around anyway? His eyes seem to be smiling, but they’re not.

“…What’s this?”

“Arabica coffee I received from an officer stationed down south. I figured it’s hard to get any on the front lines, so I stuffed two kilos’ worth in my staff pack. By the way, I roasted a hundred grams, and the rest I sealed up well in some bottles.”

“Well, well. You have my thanks.”

Colonel Uger laughs as if it’s nothing and hands the pack to Lieutenant Serebryakov, then he takes the seat opposite Tanya.

…So he’s even being considerate of conditions soldiers face on the front lines. That’s ideal for a General Staff officer serving in the rear, but to be

Page|10

honest, Uger isn’t the type to be comfortable mixing business and personal errands like this.

In other words, he’s here to talk about something so bad that his conscience made an exception? I can’t show it, but my mental state can be compared to how a bomb disposal technician feels when sent to the site of a huge explosive about to go off at any second.

“I thought I would come visit my classmate for the first time in quite a while on the pretext of observing the front lines. When you’re doing desk work for the General Staff, you start to pine for chances to get some air.”

“Well, commanding a Kampfgruppe is a pretty fun job that affords lots of discretion.”

“I’m jealous. Seems like I’ll be the only one whining about my personal problems.”

Lieutenant Colonel Uger, one of the few serious classmates I had among the monsters in the General Staff. Yet he wants this to look like a private conversation?

That has to mean he has something to discuss that he can’t let other people hear. An unofficial message. That’s a warning sign if there ever was one.

Holy hell.

He’s going to bring up something massive. The higher-ups who are always trying to shove extra work off on those out in the field can rot.

“Heh, there’s nothing I can do about that. I get to be out and about and do as I please. I’ll have to lend you an ear, then! Oh, Lieutenant Serebryakov, go grind some beans and make us coffee. Do a thorough job and take your time.”

“Understood. I think it will take a little while—yes, probably a half hour or so—but I’ll prepare two cups of coffee.”

I don’t think I put too much emphasis on that last bit. It’s excellent that my adjutant picked up on that subtle cue. She performs a beautiful salute and politely takes her leave.

I see her out and lock the compartment door.

“Okay, then…,” says Tanya, returning to Colonel Uger. “What are we actually going to talk about?”

“Oh, nothing good… I never thought I’d have to say something like this to our own troops. It makes me sick. If you were old enough, I would have brought us a stiff drink.”

Page|11

This straitlaced military man wants to drink on duty?

“Hmm?” Though the surprise she can’t voice reverberates in her head, Tanya feigns calm and limits her reaction to merely cocking her head.

“Colonel. General von Zettour is concerned that this offensive is sprawling too much. He’s especially opposed to expanding the combat front any farther.”

“That makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Tanya nods without thinking.

Lieutenant General von Zettour’s idea is actually a staunchly safe plan. If we’re going to focus not on expansion but on reorganizing our forces, we can focus on the work without tripping through the mud and snow.

In order to operate in the swamp of the east—not to mention the fearsome cold—without getting stuck, preparation is essential. I can’t say his comment is anything but logical.

“The problem is General von Rudersdorf’s view.”

“…You mean the opinion of the Operations Division?”

When he answers yes, Tanya stiffens. It’s fine for the guys in charge of actually planning operations to have their own ideas. But someone who prefers a flexible style of operation, like General von Rudersdorf, could become the seed for trouble, opposing a safe plan.

“…And what is the general’s view?”

“The guys in Operations are prioritizing time.”

“Colonel Uger, you mean they don’t want to give our enemy any more breathing room?”

“Exactly. They’re anxious about giving the enemy time to reorganize.”

Colonel Uger lays out the logic of the Imperial Army General Staff’s Operations staffers. It’s problematic, to be sure, but when I listen, it’s as correct as Zettour’s view.

On lines of this scale, reorganizing units and tidying up positions is practically unavoidable. After all, a disorderly army scattered about the field loses much of its effective fighting power.

On the other hand, a force that’s reorganizing can’t attack.

The pressure we can rain down on the enemy would drop dramatically. In other words, if we stop to reorganize our lines, the Federation Army will also get a grace period. Yes, if nothing else, time would be granted to all in equal measure.

Page|12

If that happens, our enemies will definitely reorganize as well. Essentially, it’s a never-ending dilemma.

“Apparently, the guys in Operations and General von Rudersdorf want to surround and annihilate the Federation’s field army even if this offensive seems impossible. That means…,” he says, looking out the window, and Tanya understands what the higher-ups are after, even if she doesn’t want to. “…They want to resolve things as soon as possible.”

“…You mean because winter is coming?”

It’s still August. But it’s the end of August. Even if we’re prepared for September, it’s highly improbable that we’ll still have weather suitable for military operations by the end of October.

“Our time is limited, but it’s not entirely hopeless. The higher-ups want to push for a massive envelopment using our army’s mobility.”

The fact that Tanya doesn’t scowl the moment she hears this, that alone is a feat of self-control.

One month can be guaranteed but not two. It’s absurd—a massive gamble. It’s far too great a risk to attempt a major operation now of all times. If only she could criticize such a criticism; it would be like a huge weight lifted.

But whether in the market economy or out on the battlefield, there’s no chance of victory without taking a risk.

“And what does the General Staff think we should do?”

“Opinions are split.”

It would probably be rude to nod and say of course they are.

But it’d be good for Tanya to smile vaguely. People wouldn’t be surprised to see her accurately forecast the General Staff’s mood as sunny with a chance of explosions.

“The guys in Operations are aggressively optimistic. They’re saying they still have time to engage in a battle to encircle and annihilate the enemy. They say they’ll get it done if they have two months. But it’s those two months that we’re not sure about…” He continues, “On the other hand, the Service Corps guys we’re closer to are angry. Their general demeanor seems to be ‘You really want to put our already fragile supply lines in danger?’ As long as it isn’t guaranteed that we’ll have two months to conduct operations, the Service Corps seems to want to use the remaining time to prepare for winter before snow makes that difficult.”

“You make it all sound so arbitrary, Colonel Uger.”

Page|13

Uger responds with a “Hmm,” perhaps because he’s aware of that. Tanya doubles down on the discussion.

“Another thing to consider is that if we give the enemy time to reorganize, we may end up having to support the front in a prolonged fight with weakened supply lines. The Service Corps’s plan entails risk, too.”

“Theoretically, yes. But vexing as it is, the logic on both sides of the debate is sound.”

He’s right about that.

That’s what the root of the issue is, Tanya considers internally. Truthfully speaking, there are all too many occasions where people are required to pick the better of two lousy options. Maybe if we had perfect information, it would be different, but we can’t know everything. We have to use what’s on hand to reason out the best option.

“Considering how slow-moving our enemy is, the aggressive plan’s chance of succeeding might be higher.”

If taken one thought at a time, Colonel Uger’s gripes are logical.

“If the enemy can’t use their time effectively…and if our side can use our time effectively…then there’s a benefit to us reorganizing and building a stronger foundation.”

If, if—it’s a parade of conditionals. Sheesh, there are too many unknowns.

“Colonel Uger, may I say something?”

He nods. “Of course.” Not that she’s particularly happy to see it before she hits him with something that has been bugging her.

“All I’ve heard is that our upcoming mission will be escorting the main army. I’d appreciate it if you could tell me how this debate in the General Staff affects us…”

It’s impossible to think of getting transferred away from the front and receiving a visit from her old classmate as sheer coincidence.

Reading too much into events will only lure me into concocting a ridiculous conspiracy theory. But it would be a lie to say there is nothing deliberate going on here.

“The generals’ opinions clash. But for better or worse, they’re both pragmatists. They both detest empty theory.”

“I agree. They’re both soldiers who place importance on what’s occurring on the actual battlefield.”

“Which is why, I guess you can say…Colonel von Degurechaff, I really

Page|14

feel for you. They don’t want a clash of theories but to have their ideas verified on the battlefield.”

Tanya almost tilts her head quizzically at the word verified. No, hold on. Verifying things on the battlefield would mean… Right as that thought comes, Colonel Uger continues, rapidly delivering the conclusion.

“To put it in extreme terms, they’ll make their decision after reconnoitering the enemy army.”

“And we should lodge a formal protest about how awfully leisurely they’ll be about it. Where are we going to get the time for that?”

“Unfortunately for you, whether we attack or defend, it will take time to prepare the troops…meaning there is time for a survey.”

Argh. Her bad feeling about this begins ringing the alarm bells, but it’s too late.

“Their conclusion is simple. While supplies are being stockpiled, your Kampfgruppe will go check out the enemy.”

“Recon-in-force?”

“Not quite. It’s a mission to defend a salient.”

Tanya knows it’s bad manners to glare at people.

Still…

Colonel Uger just told her that command wants to put her in a dangerous area, giving her plenty of reason for her gaze to bore into his eyes.

“There is one area where we’ve deliberately given the enemy time to regroup. We want you to engage them and get a feel for how powerful a force they have. In a nutshell, it’s a probe. We want you to perform an experiment on a strategically unimportant piece of land that we’ve left for them on purpose.”

The brass wants us to be coal-mine canaries that let them gauge the danger by seeing when we sing and when we can’t anymore!

We’re even lower than guinea pigs!

“This is a terribly rude question, but…are you saying my unit has been ordered to go and die to ascertain which of the two generals is correct?”

“That’s a harsh way to put it, but…yes. The General Staff’s problems are the General Staff’s problems. In other words, we General Staff officers have to solve them among ourselves.”

As far as Tanya knows, I suppose it should be said…

General Staff officers, including Colonel Uger, have a sense of duty for

Page|15

their office that is, for better or worse, too strong.

Noblesse oblige is the nice way to put it.

Obligations of the elite is haughtier but also honest.

But a guy like Colonel Uger isn’t the type to share that kind of thought out loud. That’s what an elite should be like. A representative like Uger conveys his nobility though actions not words.

Yet, he’s talking about it…in terms of General Staff officers? I can only assume that there’s a huge land mine afoot.

“I beg your pardon, Colonel Uger, but the way you’re talking, it sounds like perhaps something happened?”

“…Yeah. It’s classified, but…I’m the one getting you involved in this, so…I would say it’s my moral responsibility to inform you.”

He looks up at the ceiling of the train compartment and doesn’t even try to conceal his sigh; he must be in quite a state. Looking closely, I can see that the fatigue hasn’t completely left his eyes. Most noticeable is his utterly exhausted tone.

There was at least some life in that voice until just a minute ago, but it suddenly turned weary.

“Supreme High Command has been in an uproar for some time now. The government, the General Staff Office, and the court have all been a barrel of fun lately.”

He certainly doesn’t sound like things over there have been very enjoyable. More like he’s stopped caring.

“On top of that, we can’t ignore public opinion. We’re getting a storm of complaints from around the Empire. Everyone says we should ‘get it over with.’ It’s no wonder there’s a gigantic hurricane blowing through the General Staff Office.” He groans and quietly adds, “The voices calling for a swift resolution have grown to the point where we are feeling the pressure. And I can’t say this publicly, but this argument between General von Zettour and General von Rudersdorf is an extension of domestic politics. Their positions and duties are simply too different.”

Mumbling that he’s said too much, he turns to the window and clams up. Tanya understands how he feels, of course.

I see, public opinion.

I was just reading that wartime newspaper full of rows upon rows of garbage stories with nothing else in it… The national mood is a monster, and

Page|16

it appears to be growing more insistent by the second.

I don’t know who planted the seeds, but since they weren’t harvested, this is the obvious result.

It would seem that the more decent a person is, the harder their life is. Well, it has to be better than the front lines. I want to work in the rear like Colonel Uger.

At the same time, I realize it’s not easy. For example, General von Zettour is in charge of the Service Corps. Put in extreme terms, the person in charge of acquiring resources for the war domestically is compelled to face a neverending stream of problems.

From the perspective of private demand, the Empire is pouring its limited resources into the bottomless pit known as the eastern front—and at a horrifying rate that is probably difficult to comprehend for people outside the military. The way things are currently, the discontent of all the civilian sectors that are getting the short end of the stick must be incredible.

No, it’s impossible to even imagine.

Reading just one of these ridiculous newspaper articles makes it plain to see.

It’s too dangerous to have the person writing news articles so out of sync with the actual situation on the battlefield. Being intentionally vague to protect military secrets is sensible. But if the people disseminating information simply don’t know anything to begin with, we have some serious work to do when it comes to following best practices in communication and conveying intel.

We’re just like an underperforming corporation. We’re one step away from that classic, vicious cycle of savagery and emotionally fueled blunders.

“…Colonel Uger. I’ve received the orders, and my unit will follow them. We will head to our new location and conduct combat missions.”

“All right. Well, saying, ‘Sorry to cause you trouble,’ would be insensitive even coming from me. Colonel, I can’t guarantee any additional supplies, but as your former classmate, I can say this much: I’ll do everything in my power to maintain the supply lines for you.”

The person bowing, openly relying on Tanya, is a mid-level General Staff officer in charge of handling supplies. Normally, he would be able to make anything happen if it was necessary for the war effort.

Yet the most he can promise is to keep the lines open?!

Page|17

“Have things really gotten that bad?” “They really have. I’m sorry.”

I want to groan at the ceiling. The situation is dire.

A lieutenant colonel in the General Staff working directly with railroads and logistics can’t secure extra supplies for the Salamander Kampfgruppe, a single unit that’s deploying on orders straight from the General Staff?

He can promise only the existence of some supplies?

This isn’t a brigade or an army but a Kampfgruppe pulled together from a hodgepodge of forces! The protest rising up in Tanya’s throat is not incorrect.

But the suffering in Colonel Uger’s grimace! Nothing else could more accurately convey the true feelings of those stationed in the rear.

This must be why General von Zettour is vehemently opposed to the expansion of the front no matter what. More importantly, he can’t possibly divert any more national resources for military use. Tanya empathizes with his struggle so much she feels sick.

It’s also extremely frustrating that, paradoxically, she can understand why General von Rudersdorf and his men propose a swift resolution. The commanders aren’t wrong when they say the campaign on the eastern front, where vast quantities of resources are being exhausted, needs to wrap up as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t want to be conscious of your relationship with Supreme High Command and its demand for quick victories, if you work in Operations, you have to be. Resources are finite. That’s why we must stop using them. But the necessary resources have dried up.

Both generals are right, which is why it’s such a frustrating issue.

“…What a morass,” I mumble in spite of myself. I’m seized by the urge to cradle my head and scream.

And Colonel Uger, who left with a wordless nod, must have understood how I felt: How did this happen?

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#8
The general rule of thumb is to "enter late, leave early" with dialogue, which means no greetings, no "how are you? I'm fine, thanks", etc. For some general advice, Hello Future Me has a good video on Youtube about writing dialogue, and Alexa Donne also has a couple of helpful videos. 

As for length, the longer your conversations, the more likely it is that your characters are going to head into white room syndrome territory, where the reader loses their mental image of the space your characters are in. If you have scenes that are dialogue heavy and you're not happy with, you can a) try to split the core ideas up and see if you can weave them into other scenes in your story (this may not always be feasible) or b) try to include some kind of action that the characters are doing at the same time (which may cut down the dialogue anyway - ever seen two people have an Aristotelian conversation while killing a dragon? I didn't think so.) It could also be the case that a long conversation is exactly what the characters need (hate to reference HP, but the chapter in HP5 when Harry gets back to Hogwarts after going to the ministry is just one huge conversation).

Something that helps me when writing dialogue is constantly asking myself "what is this character's agenda and what is their view point?" Even if it's random banter, characters will approach the topic differently: a daredevil character's agenda might be to make themself seem larger than life by making sweeping claims, and they might focus on the danger/consequences of actions (before shrugging them off); the social butterfly might be keeping an eye out for social connections they can forge between friends of theirs (and so ask probing questions to people who've caught their eye), and their agenda might be to be well liked so they'll mediate the conversation. You can use characters' agenda to spark conflict and stakes, even if they're small.

My final comment would be that everything in a novel has to do something - be that develop characters, theme, narrative, tone or plot. Dialogue of course can focus just on developing character, but if it has some relation to something else as well - that's the gold standard (another example: in Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy and Lizzy have a conversation about whether Mr. Bingley would go to London if his friend asked, or whether he would stay, and whether one should yield to the persuasion of a friend - all fine and well, I hear you saying, but then this exact thing happens; Bingley is persuaded to stay in London by Darcy. Lizzy sees this as a fault in Bingley's character, even though she argued that being persuaded by a friend was okay (it also mirror later on in the novel). This was quite a long conversation, but it parallels the story)

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#9
Well, hello! How are you? It's nice to have a thread where writing dialogue is the topic.

And I will offer this: My stories are pretty much all dialogue. It is how I write. My stories play for me like a movie in my head, and a movie where people don't talk is not really a movie. Also like in a movie, there are settings that need to be described and scenes that happen in them, where the characters come into the scene thinking and acting one way and then leave then scene having been changed.

So every scene, every setting, every conversation that I write has a goal in mind -- to further the plot. It may be foreshadowng, it may be backstory, it may be close and personal or it may be action-packed.  But each scene I write, each setting I place my characters in has three purposes -- to paint a picture for my readers, to give my characters a place to interact and to further the plot.

How long should a scene of dialogue be? I assume most writers want their dialogue to sound authentic, but how?

When I write, I can hear the voices of the characters as they speak their lines. I will admit however, that I must edit and edit what I write, and then edit again, to make it sound free-flowing and organic. And to also ensure that the descriptive narrative for the scene is inserted where it's needed, to keep the plot moving along, yet not screw up the dialogue.

Do you write a full build up pre-scene where characters greet each other?

Hmm. A 'full build up pre-scene.' I'm kind of wondering what that is. Suffice to say that introductions are important. An introduction doesn't have to happen at first sight between two characters, but eventually the characters do have to be introduced -- both to the reader and to each other.

So yeah, I guess. Eventually two characters who have just met must reach a point in the story where each learns something about the other. The goal of course, is to inform the reader about who these people are (and to move the plot!), moreso than it is to get Joe to say 'Hi' to Carole just so they can talk.

Do they just cut to the chase?

Again, whether or not two characters spend their initial encounter getting to know one another intimately or simply learning something cool about themselves, or if they dive right into a set building or action scene, depends on what the story needs at that point to further the plot.

But eventually, unless the characters are of the throw away type, where they play their part and disappear, you've got to give them each a personality if you don't want them to be thin pale cardboard cut-outs. And the best way I know who give a character depth and personality is to give them a voice that is unique.

Does all dialogue push the plot forward? Or are there just some points where your characters just want to have a convo that has nothing to do with the goal at hand?

When you first write a story, and maybe even for each scene or arc or character interaction that you write, after you are done you must read what you have written and them ask yourself 'does this further the plot?' You can also ask yourself if it builds a character's personality or sets a certain mood, but you must do those two sorts of things only sparingly.

So let's conclude this answer thusly -- if everyhing you write, every scene and conversation, furthers the plot and does nothing else, you have written a good story. Character building and world-building and setting the mood are nice, but moving the plot forward is always tantamount.

Do readers care about that?

The important question here is 'Do you care about it?' Since you are the author, and since writing involves a degree of self-satisfaction, if you write what you care about, others who are like you also will be pleased.

So good luck! You can do it!  🐉

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#11

1994owl Wrote: The general rule of thumb is to "enter late, leave early" with dialogue, which means no greetings, no "how are you? I'm fine, thanks", etc. For some general advice, Hello Future Me has a good video on Youtube about writing dialogue, and Alexa Donne also has a couple of helpful videos. 

As for length, the longer your conversations, the more likely it is that your characters are going to head into white room syndrome territory, where the reader loses their mental image of the space your characters are in. If you have scenes that are dialogue heavy and you're not happy with, you can a) try to split the core ideas up and see if you can weave them into other scenes in your story (this may not always be feasible) or b) try to include some kind of action that the characters are doing at the same time (which may cut down the dialogue anyway - ever seen two people have an Aristotelian conversation while killing a dragon? I didn't think so.) It could also be the case that a long conversation is exactly what the characters need (hate to reference HP, but the chapter in HP5 when Harry gets back to Hogwarts after going to the ministry is just one huge conversation).

Something that helps me when writing dialogue is constantly asking myself "what is this character's agenda and what is their view point?" Even if it's random banter, characters will approach the topic differently: a daredevil character's agenda might be to make themself seem larger than life by making sweeping claims, and they might focus on the danger/consequences of actions (before shrugging them off); the social butterfly might be keeping an eye out for social connections they can forge between friends of theirs (and so ask probing questions to people who've caught their eye), and their agenda might be to be well liked so they'll mediate the conversation. You can use characters' agenda to spark conflict and stakes, even if they're small.

My final comment would be that everything in a novel has to do something - be that develop characters, theme, narrative, tone or plot. Dialogue of course can focus just on developing character, but if it has some relation to something else as well - that's the gold standard (another example: in Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy and Lizzy have a conversation about whether Mr. Bingley would go to London if his friend asked, or whether he would stay, and whether one should yield to the persuasion of a friend - all fine and well, I hear you saying, but then this exact thing happens; Bingley is persuaded to stay in London by Darcy. Lizzy sees this as a fault in Bingley's character, even though she argued that being persuaded by a friend was okay (it also mirror later on in the novel). This was quite a long conversation, but it parallels the story)

Good points. I appreciate the white room analogy. 

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#13

and0 Wrote:
JeneClyde Wrote: Maybe it's my musical background, but the way I have always done dialogue is that I like conversations to feel organic, not necessarily authentic because what is authentic anyway? But I've always tried my best to pace my dialogue in a way that ebs and flows between plot and random meandering. People do not always stay focused on the topic at hand we talk about random stuff from time to time or things not associated with the topic at all. To me I break it down as:

The Topic i.e. the Plot the Important thing

The Relationship i.e. the Relationship and establishing the relationship between the characters, this is those emotional beats, those emotional connections, those sweet or dramatic moments

The Meandering i.e. the topics that are not associated with the topic or the relationship at hand 

And I tried to weave this into a dance with my dialogue. Because for me as a reader, I often get bored if all the characters ever just focus on plot plot plot plot. Unless the plot is urgent, your characters are people.
Hmm. I see. Good points. I tend to do the same (I hope): A little banter here and there. Then some setup for plot. But what about length? I believe that is what my main concern is. I fear my dialogue would be too much banter and not enough plot, and vice versa. Or maybe the scene in my mind is a quick interaction and characters move on, and they do not speak for the rest of the chapter. What are your takes on scenarios like that? 


Again I am a freak. So in music we have tension and release. Essentially one note causes tension and the other releases that tension. Tension in dialogue doesn't necessarily mean, something heavy, tension simply to me is the topic. I Feel and Hear all of my dialogue, so it's like a rubber band for me, you pull and pull and pull, and then it is released. The way I translate this is into dialogue is;

The topic is the tension, it's the glue holding the scene together

The release is either in a change of subject or in inter personal reflection of the topic

Basically Dialogue to me Ends when it Feels like it Needs to End or I feel the Tension needs to be released. 

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#14
I'll be the first to admit, I sometimes have issues with dialogue and balancing dialogue heavy scenes. One thing I always remember is to have people either doing something while talking so that there is action happening and people are getting places as they talk, or somehow make sure the plot is moving forward even when dialogue heavy scenes are happening. Basically, since I know I sometimes have a lot of dialogue, I try to have it perform double duty. Maybe in addition to the character saying what needs to be said, the dialogue also reveals something about their personality, or about the world, or gives foreshadowing, or builds tension toward something about to happen. Anything to make sure the dialogue is dynamic.

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#15
Maybe this is just me, but I let my characters yammer on almost all they want. It doesn't *have* to drive the plot as long as it's either funny or compelling - most of the good feedback I get is people saying they find the dialogue amusing. 

I only try to rein it in when the characters are in a situation where a long conversation just wouldn't take place, and to be honest I've written more than one fight scene when the characters are carrying on a conversation between blows.

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#17
random thoughts on length: I had a job once where I was closed captioning phone conversations. It is entirely realistic that some people can speak for 30+ minutes with the only response being uh-huh. Most conversations in stories are rooted in a conflicts and goals. Realistic conversations have people repeat and rehash the same ideas over and over, often parroting what the other person said to agree. In real conversations people are not always really paying full attention to each other, which means more repeating and rehashing or corrections. In other words, don't worry about being real, just that it feels real enough to keep reading.

I think the 'cut the greetings and leavings' really depends on if there's impact to two characters meeting or parting.

When conversations cover info the reader already has, narrate that the repeated the info and maybe add that they left some details out. Keep your story moving.

A negotiation or interrogation or confession can be tense and brisk and exciting no matter the length if the proper rules and stakes are set up and line by line we see characters moving towards or getting pulled from their goal. If the stakes are low line by line, and there's little emotional change or secondary information, it might help to just narrate what happened. Lying to a guard while the inquisitors are sweeping through the city street by street is a very different encounter then entering a peaceful city and giving a different name and destination while paying the entrance fee.

I think it's okay to have longer segments of talking with a few interruptions or questions when we are getting a story within a story but try to remember that six pages about how mana works might be better presented as someone doing exercises that accomplish tangible goals. 

Delve did a pretty good job recently at presenting info about the worlds creation myth by tying it to a scene with people doing things where two characters getting married recreated the myth in question, which made it feel less like a lecture.

Consider goals. People have conversations usually with goals, not always related to anything they say. Sometimes it's just to catch up. I personally write posts about writing because it forces me to think aloud, and sometimes I talk to help myself think. There are characters and people who talk with the goal of dominating a social setting or making themselves look good. Some people are very good at talking and can smoothly move from topic to topic making it feel natural. For those characters, it might help to write their lines a few times and pick the ones that sound best in your head. Consider things actors do in movies while chewing scenery. Pauses, significant looks, what they do with their hands and head. Are they chin up, proud? Hands crossed because they don't like what they are hearing or doubt it. Looking up and away because they are lying or don't give two shits about the conversation?

Speaking of goals: letting your character paraphrase and/or intuit why a character is talking can help you be efficient about picking a few choice lines to illustrate, for example, an older lady is fishing for if the MC is single and subtly putting down his female companion while building up her daughter. We might never see the daughter and the lady might not be important, but in a few lines you might show what normal people think of the MC's place in society, establish they are attractive, or even hint at why they might need help finding a date ("I think she wouldn't mind a dragon-tamer, she loves horses and I think they stink to high heaven!")

Less important conversations should at the very least support the mood and themes of the story.

Here's a parting tip for realistic phone conversations: A conversation is active when the person replies yeah or uh-huh to respond. They want the other party to wrap up when the person switches to 'okay'. A person is actively trying to hang up when they respond with 'all right' to everything. This is true in real life as well, if you pay attention you'll pick up on people trying to end a call with you before they hang up.

Re: Length of dialogue and interactions between characters

#18
There's a lot of good advice in this thread, but I'd like to bring in a non writerly reference.

There's a term in acting called 'GOTE'. It stands for "Goal, Obstacle, Tactics, and Expectation".  This is a tool actors use to figure out how they want to approach their dialogue, and it is an equally valuable tool for any writers of dialogue.

In other words: what does your character want? What is keeping them from it at this very second? How are they planning to talk their way into getting what they want? What is their expectation for success?  Within a kinetic narrative, these are the basic elements of how and why a character is delivering dialogue.

A mistake that I often see comes in the form of exposition dumps, big speeches, and dramatic interplay.  In these instances, writers often want a thing to be read by readers, but lose sight of the fact that the characters need a reason to be saying those things in the first place.  The result is dialogue that comes off as forced and stilted, usually at the expense of the characters speaking it.

Whenever you're writing a scene and get stuck in the middle of a dialogue, check the conversation against GOTE, ask these questions: What does my character want? How do they hope to get it?