Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dialogue vs. Conversation

Dialogue vs. Conversation

Do you know the difference?
Have you ever had a critique partner tell you that the communication between your characters is conversation? 
Nobody wants to read conversation. Conversation between the pages of a book is boring. Conversation is what happens in real life and while it works perfectly well there, it doesn’t when translated to story form.
According to, this is the difference between dialogue and conversation
Synonyms for Dialogue

Talk, chat, colloquy, communication, confab, confabulation, conference, conversation, converse, dialog, discourse, discussion, duologue, exchange, flap, interlocution, lines, parlance, parley, powwow, rap, rap session, remarks, repartee, script, sides, small talk.
Synonyms for Conversation

Dialogue, discourse, chat, colloquy, comment, communication, communion, confab, confabulation, conference, consultation, converse, debate, discussion, exchange, expression, gab, gossip, hearing, intercourse, jive, observation, palaver, parley, pillow talk, powwow, questioning, remark, repartee, speech, talk, talkfest, tète-à-tète, ventilation, visit, yak.
On the surface, not a lot of difference. So why am I saying there is? Because we are speaking in terms of creative writing and when we create a story, we want it to SOUND like real life, but if we imitate the way people speak for real, we’ll end up with dialogue which is hard to read.
Listen to people having a conversation. I’m sure you’ll notice how they barge into each other’s points, cut across, leave thoughts half said and ramble all over the place. And don’t forget all the what’s its, thingies, and thingamajigs we use to substitute for things we forget the name of.
Don’t get me wrong, using a smattering of this can add depth to a novel, but too much will kill it.
So we’re talking about dialogue vs. conversation. Although the synonyms for both  are pretty much the same. The difference is this: Dialogue does a job. It must provide the reader with information that advances the plot, foreshadow a coming event, add subtext, and show characterization, which makes the reader believe these people could be living right next door to her. It should be crisp and unique to each character.  
This is a scene between one of my heroines and a housekeeper, taken from Ty’s Plaything, a full-length romantic comedy/suspense I’m currently working on. 
Mia kept her attention on her bowl of fruit. She speared a cube of melon. “What did you say?”
“I told him I don’t know. It ain’t none of my business. Mr Manning pays me to look after his house and his guests—nothin’ else.”
I think you can notice a difference between these two characters, even with so few words spoken.
Conversation is idle chitchat—padding—and if it doesn’t do a job ie make a point, it needs to be removed. For instance, having two of your characters in a coffee shop chatting about the purple-haired woman three tables away is idle, gossipy chat if your only goal is to have your characters yak about something for a bit before you get into why they’re really meeting at the coffee shop. However, if the purple-haired woman is concealing a gun, that’s a completely different deal. Now we have a purpose—besides her shocking hair!—for the characters to notice the woman. I imagine the conversation would switch from why would anyone want to be seen in public looking like that, to why would she be carrying a gun?
Just like how you wouldn’t let your character chat about the weather for no reason at all, don’t let them chat about anything for no reason!
Do you see what I mean? Make your dialogue worth reading. Be firm with it, give it a job and make it deliver.
Dialogue should sound natural. The reader shouldn’t notice you giving information a mile off. Obvious dialogue for the purpose of imparting information is distracting. 
Example: “Hey, Rita, remember that time you broke your leg and had to spend all those weeks walking around on crutches?”
“Yeah, I remember. It still plays up when the weather changes.”
Can you say yaaaawwnnnnnnn? This is idle conversation and obvious information. DON’T DO THIS!
If we were writing a disaster weather story, this info would be importanta way of foreshadowingbut even so we'd need to deliver it with a touch more skill.
You want your reader to sink into your book and lose herself between its pages, so write dialogue that sounds like conversation, but isn’t idle chitchat.
Like scenes, let your characters’ dialogue do double duty.
To summarize: dialogue serves a purpose while conversation is idle chitchat, and dialogue without a purpose is conversation.
Hope this clarifies the difference. See you at the next Pull Up A Chair With Mon post. Until then, happy writing!
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  1. Great post, Monique. You have so much writing knowledge to share. Thanks!

  2. LoL, Celeste, yeah, I should really write a How To book one day... ;)

  3. Interesting. I totally get what you mean and will be looking over some of my conversations to make sure I haven't made those type of mistakes.



    1. So happy you found the post interesting, Lynn! :) Hope it helps to enhance your writing.

  4. I love writing dialogue and this is very helpful. Thank you.

  5. Hi, Patricia,

    My pleasure :) I love writing dialogue, too.

  6. Great post!
    I'm first in line for that How To book :)

  7. Aww, April,

    You are truly my friend :D


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