Sunday, 24 August 2008

Bad Dialogue

Here's a line I'm struggling with at the moment:

“I was. However I felt it would be a more efficient use of my time to turn it to our advantage in more than one way.”

Pretty awful, eh?

One of the problems with writing dialogue is that what works on the page doesn't necessarily work when read aloud. Not that I'm claiming the above example works well on the page either, but it's a problem with a lot of stuff that I've read. My first method of dealing with unwieldy dialogue is usually to reduce its word count - after all people don't follow the strict rules of grammar when talking and don't always use proper sentence structure, so paring back the dialogue can help make it sound more natural.

A particular issue I have with the above sentence is that the character speaking is non-human - a robot in fact - so there needs to be a degree of formality to the dialogue. However it doesn't read as formal - it reads as clunky. It's too long for a start - which is my next trick, cutting up the dialogue into several sentences.

Third solution I tend to fall back on quite a lot is cutting the sentence completely. Often when something reads wrong, I find it's superfluous to the story. However, if I ditch this one, I then have to rewrite, or excise, the following eight sentences, which seems like a bit much just because I'm struggling with finding a better way to rewrite that sentence.

Here's the quick and nasty rewrite version if I wasn't worrying about the formality of the sentence

“I was, but I thought I could could kill two birds with one stone.”

Not sure my robot is going to be using an idiom like that. So what I need is something that conveys the same concept with the same sort of brevity, but which uses plain English.

"I was, but I saw the opportunity to increase the benefit to us."

It's not going to win any prizes for great dialogue, but at least it reads faster, is a lot clearer and is not inconsistent with the voice of the character.

1 comment:

jun6lee said...

Hey I'm no genius but I'll attempt alternative dialogue here ..

"I was, however I've derived a more optimal approach, saving resource & time."