Monday, January 4, 2010

Better Than Reality

It's strange fact of my life that, since I spend a lot of time with film majors, I'm involved in more than a few conversations about writing, script or novel. A while ago, my brother, who got involved in a friend's project, was discussing dialogue with me. According to him, his friend had a very interesting manner of speaking not common to most people. And, according to him, it showed in the script.

My brother told me that scripts should never sound the way people actually talk, because that's going to change. Instead, they should sound the way people wished they talked, because that wasn't going to change any time soon. The dialogue shouldn't mimic real life's; it should be better than it.

Now, I cannot believe I'm actually going to say this -- and if I thought there was even the vaguest chance he might read this post, I would never say it -- but I think my brother actually have gotten that one right.

To save myself the pain of having to concur with my brother, I will chose instead to quote Nathan Bradsford: "Don't write what real life sounds like; write better than real life."

If you're sitting there thinking, 'Wait, isn't that basically what her brother said?', yes, that is basically what he said. However, I'm willing to skip over that fact in my head. What can I say, that's how I roll.

Anyway, I must say, I believe that quote is quite true.

I know that the way I speak bears very little resemblance to the way a lot of people speak. I like the words 'quite' and 'rather.' I also try to avoid using the word 'like' out of the context of 'Oh, I like this cake very much. It is very delicious.' (When I was younger, my father used to charge me a quarter every time I messed that one up. He pulled that stunt on my friends as well. Believe me, you shape up fast when you cannot get a paragraph out without interruptions on a grammatical front.) I also tend to sarcasm and sentences that thrive on commas.

I also know that the way people speak isn't always the wittiest, funniest, or prettiest manner of speaking. I know I clean it up when I'm writing the dialogue for my stories. Gut feeling tells me dialogue writers for films must clean that up as well, though I don't know as much about that as I should.

This is, indeed, another concern for me, as I'm writing in first person. My narrator writes the way people talk, which isn't always the best thing. I don't just want her to sound like a real person. I want her to sound better than a real person.

How do you feel about realism in dialogue? How about in narration?


  1. I read taht from Nathan as well and it filed me with relief. I really do want to write better than my MC could possibly sound. It's much funner.

  2. Great point. Even if it came from your brother. :) I think it's more important for dialogue to sound believable than for it to sound like real life. It can be bigger than life and still be believable.

  3. Interesting premise. In dialogue I try and make the characters 'sound' better than in real life. However I also like to try and keep it real. If my MC has a flat tire on a deserted highway in a snowstorm, she's not going to say, "Oh, gosh darn it, where did I put that silly old tire jack?" I'm afraid I would use real words, like the real words we all know we'd use in the same situation.

    I know what Nathan and your brother are trying to say, I just don't know how we can get better than real life.

  4. T.A. -- I agree, good sounding characters are much more fun.

    Susan -- The distinction between believable and real amuses me. It's like that quote, 'the only difference between fiction and reality is that fiction must make sense.'

    Piedmont -- Maybe it's not better than real life per se, but our characters could certainly be the best parts of life, instead of the average or the not so good parts.