Comical Conversations

It’s humorous how written conversations often don’t resemble real-life conversations. For some reason, writers make dialogue between people more convoluted than it actually is. There are many examples, but I’ll cover three basic bad habits. All of them are funny if you think about how unrealistic they are. 🙂


1. Using names too often.

In real life, we don’t use each other’s names unless we absolutely have to. We just talk! But in writing, people call each other by name much too frequently.

Example 1:

Emily was excited to hike Pikes Peak with Jacob. She turned to him as they packed their gear.
“Jacob, should I bring pepper spray?”
“Why would you need it, Emily?”
“Well, Jacob, I heard on the news that a bear was sighted near the trail a week ago.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about it, Emily.”
“You seriously don’t think so, Jacob?”
“Yes, I’m serious, Emily.”

There are only two people in the scene. If you and another person are talking, do you say each other’s names repeatedly? Of course not. Do you talk formally with each other? Here’s a more realistic conversation:

Emily was excited to hike Pikes Peak with Jacob. She turned to him as they packed their gear.
“Should I bring  pepper spray?”
“Why?”
“I heard a bear was sighted near the trail a week ago.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Seriously?”
“Yep.”

Example 2: Multiple people are in the scene

Grandma Ginny was trying to herd all the preschoolers who were her grandchildren into the house for snacks and their naps. They were chasing each other around the yard and jumping on the trampoline, so she had to yell to be heard.
“Noah! Emma! Mason! Logan! Sophia! Come in right now! I have snacks prepared for you, then you can settle down for naps.”
“Nooooo, Grandma Ginny—I don’t want to come in!” Noah yelled. “Only girls need naps.”
Sophia stomped her foot and yelled back at him, “Noah! Girls don’t need naps. Only boys do! Right, Emma?”
“Ha ha ha!” Mason laughed as he poked Sophia. “You’re right, Noah! Only girls need naps!”
Emma said, “I want to jump on the trampoline some more.”
Grandma Ginny clapped her hands to get their attention. “I’m your grandma, so I’m the boss. I said you all need naps. Now come in the house right this instant!”
As the kids finally shoved each other through the door and headed for the snacks, Grandma realized one child was missing.
“Logan James! Where are you? Get in here right now!”

Alright, let’s rewrite this scene. First, we’ll take out all but necessary exclamation points. Next, we’ll write it simply without everyone’s names. It’s not important which kid said what. We’ll use the one name that is necessary.

Grandma opened the door and chuckled at the five preschoolers chasing each other around the yard.
“Kids! Time for snacks and naps.”
She heard the usual complaining.
One boy yelled, “Only girls need naps.”
The tallest girl stomped her foot. “Girls don’t need naps. Boys do.”
Grandma clapped her hands. “You all need naps. Come in this instant.”
They hurried to obey.
As the kids jostled their way past her, she realized one was missing. “Logan James! Where are you? Get in here right now.”


2. Speaking too much.

In real life, we use body language more than words. Pay attention to your interactions with others (in person), and see how much body language is used compared to words. When we do talk, we usually speak in short phrases unless we need to explain something. But often writers have their characters speak unnecessarily.

Example:

Jace and Serena were watching a movie together cuddled on the couch at Jace’s house late at night. It was one they always wanted to see, and they were at a suspenseful part.
“Eek—this is scary, Jace!” Serena squealed and clutched his arm tightly.
“This isn’t scary.” He laughed at her.
“Maybe not for you, but for me it is.” Serena let go of his arm and pulled away from him, still mesmerized by the action unfolding on the screen.
“Hey, Serena, do you want something to eat?” He asked.
“Right now during this intense scene?!”
“Sure, hon, why not? I’m hungry. I’m going to get something to eat.” He headed to the fridge to get something to munch on.
Serena replied, “Oh my goodness, I couldn’t eat with my stomach all tied up in knots from the suspense!” She shook her head and turned back to the screen.

This scene is much more realistic using body language and only basic snippets of conversation:

Jace cuddled with Serena on his couch in the dark, staring at the large TV screen.
Suddenly, Serena squealed and clutched his arm.
He laughed. “It’s only a movie.”
She pulled away, still mesmerized by the action.
“Hey, you hungry?”
Now?”
“Sure.” He headed to the fridge.
Serena shook her head and clutched a pillow to her chest.


3. Floating body parts.

When using body language to communicate, watch out for body parts that seem to move independently from a person. These exaggerated descriptions are termed “floating body parts” or “flying body parts.” See if you can spot them below.

Example:

Xavier desperately wanted to leave the riotous party. His eyes flew around the room for an escape. All the doors were blocked with people, and his face dropped to the floor.
“Heyyy there, handsome, are ya here alone?” An obviously tipsy girl shot her arm toward him.
His legs pulled away to avoid her but he couldn’t go far with all the people there. “No, I’m not staying here. I’m just about to leave.”
Her eyebrows leapt up to her bangs. “Why wouldja wanna leave? This is a greaaaat party.” Her eyes fixed themselves on him.
His hands rose up to shoo her away. “Put your eyes back in your head. I’m not available.”
As her body flung itself toward him, his body zipped around.
“Where ya going?” Her whiny voice stuck in his ear.
“Hey, my eyes just landed on someone I know!”
He shoved his way through the throngs of people and flew out the back door.

Hopefully you saw the crazy visuals in there! 🙂 Don’t try to get fancy with body parts to show nonverbal communication. Writing clearly and simply is most effective:

Xavier desperately searched the room for an easy escape, but the doors were blocked with partiers.
“Heyyy, handsome, are ya here alone?” An obviously tipsy girl reached for him.
He tried to back up, but the room was too crowded. “I’m leaving.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Why? This is a greaaaat party.” She fixated on him.
He put his hands up. “Sorry, not available.”
As she flung herself toward him, he sidestepped her.
“Where ya going?” She whined.
“Hey, I just saw someone!”
He shoved his way through the throngs of people and slipped out the back door.


Savvy Writer Tip:

If you take the time to notice, real-life conversations are a combination of body language and short verbal responses. Writers often unnecessarily embellish written conversations with characters who overuse each other’s names, talk too much, and seem to have floating body parts. Those things make the scenes lengthy, unrealistic, and often comical. Savvy writers know how to write conversations clearly, simply, and believably! 🙂

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