06 January 2022

Who Talks Like This? (Reader Participation Fiction Edition)

Happy New Year! 

Just this week I ran across this in The New Yorker: "Movie Dialogue That Nobody Has Ever Actually Said in Real Life," by Jason Adam Katzenstein, and it reminded me of any number of conversations I've had both with fellow writers and with fans over the years, marveling at the disconnect between real life and the artistic treatments of real life situations intended to closely resemble them.

It's a quick read, really a series of single panel cartoons handily illustrating the author's point (example: two women running together, with one of them saying to the other: "As your best friend for the last twenty-five years..." and another, one man saying to another-who is facing away from him: "You know what your problem is?").

So, of course, I began thinking about seeing this sort of thing in the fiction I've read. Everyone who has read even ten novels has likely run across this sort of thing. And I'm interested in hearing examples from our readers here at the Sleuthsayers blog. I'll start, but would really like to see some lively responses in the comments.

Here we go!

My example: the use (or overuse) of names

You've seen it. We all have. Dialogue that goes something like this:


"Well, what, Bill?"

"You know what, Carmen."

"No I don't."

"Come on, Carmen. Out with it!"


So, who talks like this?


There are great authors out there, masters of dialogue (Megan Abbott, Elmore Leonard, Sue Grafton, Walter Mosley, Peter Temple) whose work is a collective master class in writing dialogue that's so realistic it leaps off the page. And this is the sort of mistake that authors of this caliber never seem to make.

I think every writer goes through a phase, hopefully early in their career, where they commit this sort of blunder. I know I could dust off my first, never-to-be-published "mistake" novel, and find no end of examples of this sort of writing.

But hey, this is all intended be both light-hearted and instructive. So what examples can you  bring to the conversation? Looking forward to seeing them in the comments!


  1. How about the entire text of "The Bridges of Madison County"? Example:
    “Robert, there's a creature inside of you that I'm not good enough to bring out, not strong enough to reach. I sometimes have the feeling you've been here a long time, more than one lifetime, and that you've dwelt in private places none of the rest of us has even dreamed about. You frighten me, even though you're gentle with me. If I didn't fight to control myself with you, I feel like I might lose my center and never get back.”
    That's some bad writing there!

    1. I've never read the book, but I saw the movie & it had some really terrible dialogue. Probably taken straight out of the book!

  2. HA! Thanks for that trip down Bad Memory Lane, Eve! Ugh. I didn't get past chapter two of that piece of dreck!

  3. I know. One of the worst books ever.
    I also threw "The Da Vinci Code" across the room after about the 2nd chapter, too.

  4. I never went near either the book or film of Madison County because I heard so many bad things. I borrowed a copy of Da Vinci and laughed most of the way through it. My favorite memory about that book was being at the Wesleyan Writer's Conference for an agent/editor panel, and one agent was from the group that represented Dan Brown. Someone asked why the book did so well (remember, Brown had 5 0r 6 midlist books out already), and he had one of those vague buzzword answers that said nothing. Later, at the bar, he softly conceded, "we all thought it was crap, but might sell. But nothing like this!"

    Dennis Lehane and Robert Crais write good dialogue. Michael Connelly, not so much. And considering that he was considered one of the major American playwrights of the 20th century (I never agreed), Arthur Miller wrote consistently and spectacularly wretched dialogue. In separate productions, I've played both brothers in The Price, and they were both painful experiences.

  5. Eric Segal. Love Story. I don't think it's possible to find anything worse. Although The DaVinci Code is a challenger.

  6. I nominate the first quarter of 50 Shades of Gray. I say first ¼ because I couldn't get past the quarter mark. Perhaps the remaining ¾ was brilliant. But I doubt it.

    I've helped beta-read romance writer friends and one had a gem were a couple have gone to bed for the night and the husband says, "Tell me about my sister-in-law's pregnancy. Now dish!"

  7. Back when I was judging for the Edgar Novel awards, I read one book that I promptly named "50 Shades of Green." It was soooooo bad.

  8. Don: ACK! LOVE STORY - the fictionalized version of the college love story of Al and Tipper Gore. God, I remember my parents complaining about the writing...

    Leigh: the author of FIFTY SHADES started out writing TWILIGHT fan fiction. Let that one rattle around in your head....

    Eve: I read at least TEN books fitting that description when I was an Edgar judge. Ye Gods. Never again...


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