Dialogue vs Conversation

I have read many books in which the characters speak "exactly" as they would in real life. This stems from the author's perception of conversation and subsequent understanding of how they feel "dialogue" should be rendered to sound as natural and as fluent as possible.

But is dialogue the same as conversation? A simple one-liner: "Get the hell out of my room." The person on the receiving end of that demand, quietly skulks from the room. This is clearly not conversation but does it constitute dialogue? Strictly speaking, dialogue is an oral exchange between two or more people. At best, this is an altercation. The following is a conversation between two friends who have met on the street. It is without narrative and attribution as these are topics in their own right ( for another post perhaps).

"Hi, how you been keeping?"

"Pretty well, thanks. err...been a while. Nice day to be out shopping."

"Yep. Just browsing really. Bit short on the ol' pennies."

"Best to get it done now I reckon. Yep. Big game on tonight. Don't want to miss it."

"Glad I bumped into you actually. You mentioned that you and the missus where looking for a new holiday place. My neighbour's selling a cabin out in the country."

This is conversation...but not very good dialogue. But, it is technically "dialogue." However, if you were to write in this fashion throughout the story the reader would soon be contemplating using your book as a doorstop. For literary purposes, there needs to be a distinction between dialogue and conversation. Dialogue for writing should be punchy and straight to the point, omit pleasantries (unless they are essential to reveal character ) and irrelevancies. The above example could have started with "Glad I bumped into you." There is no unnecessary lead-in and this introduction focuses the reader's attention because we want to know why he's glad. It is clear that this sentence leads to the real purpose of their meeting. Perhaps the story is about a cabin in the woods...one which turns out to be haunted. The trick is "not" to present dialogue in conversational manner but still make it sound natural. Of course, each character needs his own voice, style and tone. Don't strip it of dialect or colloquiums. For me, one of the best approaches to writing dialogue is to do so without any narrative then read it aloud. You should be able to tell who's speaking without the aid of tags and attribution.

So, I guess the real question is - should dialogue reflect how we "really" speak, or should it be tempered and refined for writing?

I welcome your comments on this. Would be good to hear what your think?

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading.


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