"When Men Run Out Of Words"

Sunday, 8 April 2012


"When men run out of words, they reach for their swords. Let's hope we can keep them talking." ~Oliver Cromwell (Cromwell movie)

Dialogue in real life is a love-hate relationship for me. Thought and Dialogue are definitely distinct yet interlinked in many ways, and the one can affect the other.
I think incessantly... really. Non-stop. When I'm cutting up a piece of cucumber into the salad bowl, mopping the kitchen floor, or  when I'm working on a Mathematics problem, I'm always subconsciously thinking of something. Maybe the only times I do not think are when I am asleep, but even then, my thoughts and the night time play on my dreams so that I think I am still thinking subconsciously. It is quite bizarre, but I love it. Because thinking is invigorating, especially if the topic I am thinking about makes me think

And yet, if I am not thinking too deeply upon a singular subject that's ruffling me, I must talk about it. I enjoy talking- perhaps a bit too much for my own good at times- but it is good to communicate with others those thoughts. There are times though, that, like everybody sometimes does, I find myself relying on instinct and what comes to my mind first to lead my dialogue and words in the direction I'd like it to go. As much as I'm trying hard not to, phrases such as "you see(s)" "like" "know what I mean?" pop into in my vocabulary oft' too often when I am at a loss of how to tell others what I am thinking.  Sometimes when I'm speaking to one of my sisters and trying to get my point across to them on a certain topic that I feel strongly about, I'd impulsively blurt, "Do you know what I mean?" And I would inevitably get a blank look from the other person, "N-o, I don't know what you mean." 

I love talking, but when that happens, I find it really hard not to get discouraged and how to bring my words across to those listening to me. If I start talking before I've thought properly, I find myself using useless prepositions and adjectives, leaving out most of the nouns and verbs! That of course makes me start sounding quite absurd and so I'd blush, feel shy and inevitably shut up into myself, too embarrassed to communicate the thoughts that I so badly want to speak to others. It is all a matter of communication... of thinking things through in your head and then speaking them logically and coherently, without taking for granted that the ones you are talking to can read the thoughts in your head and make sense of what you're trying to say. I think that is why there are numerous passages in God's Word that speak of being slow to speak, guarding our tongues, and yet being just as quick to hear :). 



I still forget to "think before speaking" sometimes, but slowly I am getting better at it. A bit of it I guess is self-consciousnesses and shyness that gradually lessens as I grow older :), which I am definitely grateful for. In real life, I love dialogues. If you are visiting at a friends' home, you'd feel very awkward if no one spoke anything to the other, and there wasn't a refreshing dialogue or conversation going on. People would just stare at each other, and offer piecemeal words only when prompted. The atmosphere would be icy, and anything but warm and friendly. Dialogue and conversation with your friends, family, and with everyone is an important part of usual life... There is a scene from the Cromwell movie, where Cromwell when asked by his son if England could come to a civil war, said, "Well, Oliver, when men run out of words, they reach for their swords. Let's hope we can keep them talking!"  How true is that?


In fiction and biography, I also love dialogues. Imagine a whole novel without any dialogue! It would be like a book without pictures, only a lot, lot worse. But I don't like reading a book that has stilted conversations that feel made up and fake. Forced. Neither do I like dialogue that leads no where. Dialogue that feels like the author didn't think before hand what the whole point of the characters' conversation was, and wasn't sure where it was heading. I never realized until recently though that I sometimes carry the "annoying habit of dialogue" of talking before thinking into my writing as well. Into the dialogue of my characters. 


 How can that be? I think, how we speak in real life, and how we observe conversations and dialogues of others influence the way we write dialogue in fiction, as well as the kind of books we read, which will affect our dialogue writing one way or the other. I would not say I am an authority on this subject since I'm struggling with it myself. But I know many of us writers (the ones at least who struggle with writing dialogue) would like help on this issue. So, I've got a little surprise for you all! I've asked Abigail J. Hartman who blogs on, Scribbles and Ink Stains and is the author of her debut novel, The Soldier's Cross, to write a first ever guest post on Fullness of Joy to address this issue of writing good dialogue in fiction. So stay tuned!


3 sweet note(s):

  1. Hey Joy! :)

    I think a great secret to writing dialogue is to let the characters come out on their own. To let them just speak....To work on a dialogue isn't something we automatically do in natural life; we talk, we converse with others, we listen to them and respond in cue. That's the way a story has to be, I think any how. :)

    I see what you mean about rambling though in trying to tell others something. But isn't that a very natural thing? The Lord Jesus has given us such a wide and varied way to communicate, and yet the thoughts He gives, and the reflections He sets in our minds are often so much more varied and wide...Sometimes there just aren't words to express the thoughts so deep inside.
    Though I've never had a scene like that, I think such a fumbling "do you know what I mean?" coming from a character in a given situation would add great color to a story and also build the character him/herself, or build the atmosphere he/she is immediately in.
    Yet it would get boring, just like in real life, if a character was always saying it! :) So....like you imply here, such rambling dialogue in a story can't become the outlet of an ill-prepared pen! :)

    Very interesting post, and I'm looking forward to hearing more on this! :)

    In Him;
    April

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  2. Hi April,

    Finally I get to commenting back (sorry for the delay!).

    Oh, that's very true that it is important to let the characters be themselves, to let them speak as they really would in real life, and not restrict them. So in fact, it really isn't the author who molds the characters, but the author gets to KNOW the characters that are there already in one's mind!

    Yes, rambling in real life is a very natural thing, April, but I don't think it should be found in the dialogue of the characters, natural as it is. Example, unless the author establishes in a dialogue a fact, emotion, choice, relationship, feeling or tension, or a setting for an incident that will help the story or characters in any way, I think it is quite pointless to record a rambling dialogue of two characters discussing the weather, or what they're going to have for dinner as they dry the dishes like we do in real life. It will only be tedious for the readers.

    You made the point that "sometimes there just aren't words to express the thoughts so deep inside". That's true, but only for a character and not for a writer. Because after all, we should be able to find the words to express our thoughts, right? If a character is struggling to put into words his/her thoughts, the writer can show their struggle by letting them blurt "do you know what I mean?" (nothing wrong with that!) but it should be in a way that the readers will know the characters thoughts, know his/her struggles... and aren't left wondering and thinking if maybe it was in fact the author who wasn't sure where the dialogue was leading and couldn't think of the appropriate words for the characters to say. While in real life, oft' those listening will never really know what the other person's innermost thoughts are. And that is reflected in dialogue. I hope I am making sense here :), and it has been fun discussing this, hasn't it!

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  3. Hey Joy! :)

    Finally here to respond. :) Yes, it hasn't been fun discussing this.

    I know what you mean too, about the writer always being aware of what the character is trying to say - I agree quite thoroughly! :)

    I have read over many of my old stories where it was so, so clear that I hadn't the slightest thought of the character's conversations needing to *mean* something. It was simply talk. Which isn't healthy in a story, to say the least!

    Though I do often have troubles expressing my character's feelings that are so deep they are wordless...probably because they spring from feelings that are really my own, which I can not express in reality much less in fiction!

    Am I making sense? (Sorry to steal your phrase! ;)

    I'm not really very good at discussing the writing machine! :) I get so confused at times....but its fun trying to sort all this out and explain it.

    I've always just written as the Lord Jesus opens the story to me...never thought much of the actual writing process.

    In Him;
    April

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"Gracious words are like a honeycomb; sweetness to the soul and health to the body..." ~Proverbs 16:24

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