Writing Right with Dmitri: Free Sources of Great Dialogue

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Tip of the Week: Spellcheckers are nice. But they are not always reliable. In addition to being untrustworthy when it comes to 'its' and 'their', spellcheckers frequently refuse to allow you to switch between British and American spellings. If you're Canadian, you have to learn how to spell out of self-preservation.

Autocomplete is the number one reason more and more journalists are using what Mark Twain calls the 'second cousin' to the right word.

Remember: as Karl Marx is said to have said, 'Vertrauen ist gut: Kontrolle ist besser.' (My spellchecker just had a nervous breakdown with that sentence, of which it only recognised the word 'gut'. The Great Proofreader alone knows what it thinks I said.)

The moral: proofread, early and often.

Writing Right with Dmitri: Free Sources of Great Dialogue

Editor at work.

Do editors kvetch at you about your dialogue? Do readers complain that 'nobody talks like that'? They're probably full of it. But how do you make your dialogue sound more authentic?

The answer is: listen. Listen to everybody around you. In particular, listen to the idiots. Idiots on the street. Idiots on television. Idiots on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook. Idiots don't think before they speak. They are a wonderful natural resource.

What am I talking about? People whose speech is what the Magliozzi brothers call 'unencumbered by the thought process' tend to be more revelatory of their motives than those who are careful in their utterances. When one of these bores is droning on at you, don't spend the time wishing you were elsewhere. Pay careful attention: they're giving you material, and you don't even have to pay them. When they're done, beam at them and say, 'You know, it all seems so much clearer now. Thank you!' That'll baffle them.

Document these sayings as soon as possible. That way, when editors complain, 'Nobody thinks like that,' you can point to a specific instance and retort, 'Oh, yes, they do!' Not everyone out there is calm, reasoned, and philosophical. If they were, the world would be a far different place from what it is.

Overheard dialogue can be funny. Don't believe me? Believe Youtube. Youtube is a fun source of royalty-free snark, innuendo, and clueless utterance.

One caveat: when using quotes from friends and relatives, make sure they either a) won't ever read your stuff, or b) are unlikely to recognise themselves if they do. Disguise the descriptions. If you change genders, age groups, or professions, the less observant probably won't notice. After all, if they tend to say silly or embarrassing things, they may also tend not to be self-reflective.

Back in the 1860s, Mark Twain went on a long package tour, possibly the first of its kind, from the United States through the Mediterranean and on to Palestine. He wrote about in a sort of newspaper blog that turned into the book The Innocents Abroad. In it, he made fun of most of his fellow passengers. One way he got away with it was by creating composite characters. Another way was by relying on the high opinion the more pompous travellers had of themselves, and their correspondingly low opinion of their shipmates. Quite often, he found that Passenger X praised the way he'd nailed Passenger Y, without noticing the caricature Twain had drawn of him.

So get out there and eavesdrop. Your dialogue will sparkle with wit and idiocy. People will compliment you on your keen insight into human nature.

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

11.03.19 Front Page

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