Dialogue's Pettiest of Peeves


“Let's bring it up to date with some snappy nineteenth century dialogue”

Samuel Goldwyn, the movie Goldwyn (and the G in MGM) said this back in 1924, which brings up another great point about dialogue. It's a tether to the story's setting.

In thought and speech, characters reflect their milieu. Place, time, educational background, social standing: every one of these should be reflected. But delicately, as if you're painting a pastel watercolor instead of troweling foundation on a sow's face. (What an image!)

By this I mean please don't go overboard with dialect. At best, it get be offensive. At worst, incomprehensible. A few dropped g's and f-bombs go a long way, as do "lads" and "lassies." And if you try to transcribe a cherubic little child lisping or using a lot of baby talk, I'm sooo out of there! (Can you hear my pet peeves coming out?)

Resist the temptation to stereotype by prissifying the speech of "good" characters (often in terms of grammar and level of sophistication) and "dumbing down" the speech of villains. And please, for the sake of all of us living in the South (here comes another of the pet peeves) don't link Southern dialect, i.e. y'all and "shuggah" or sugar, to gross stupidity, or I will curse your Daisy Duke gams with an eternal case of cellulite.

If figurative language (similes, metaphors, and the like) come into play, the character will naturally use comparisons with which he or she would be familiar. A Twentieth Century longshoreman won't be comparing his girl's temper to a drunken lord's.

As you can see, there are a lot of ways to go wrong with linking dialogue to setting. But no one ever said this business was for sissies!

So what are your pet peeves in terms of dialogue? I'd love to hear some more.

Comments

Suzan Harden said…
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Suzan Harden said…
The Scottish brogue - AAAAGGGHHH! I realize highlanders have been all the rage in historicals (maybe still are), but half the time I can't understand a *#^$ing thing the hero is saying.

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