Dialogue Part 6 - How to Write Bullshit Dialogue by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Previous parts in the Dialogue Series (yes, we'll get to "integration" of dialogue with other skills), can be found here:
That last one, Part 5, How to write liar dialogue, is most relevant to this post which is about something even worse than lies.
I was reading a newspaper (yeah, on paper, would you believe?) recently, in which I ran across two opinion pieces about diverse topics. Each hung their main point on a non-fiction book.
I thought it interesting that one article pointed to the book, saying that there is something WORSE than lying, and that from the explanation I agreed!
For the most part, you can't use this method to create dialogue because dialogue is not "speech" per se, not a simple transcription of the way people talk, but must be terse, to the point, off the nose, and not be the author talking to the reader, but one character talking to another character.
However, when searching for a way to SHOW DON'T TELL a) the nature of a character and b) the gullibility of another character that will lead them into serious trouble, this method of dialogue generation will work very well.
Here's the book:
The thesis is that liars know the truth and are trying to cover it up, misdirect you, or otherwise convince you that the truth is not true.
Bullshitters, on the other hand, don't necessarily know the truth, and really couldn't care less what is true and what is not true. Bullshitters are ramming their agenda into your head by saying whatever will make you do what they want you to do, regardless of whether it will benefit you, or even the bullshitter.
The article also pointed out that the originator(s) of the bullshit dialogue may actually know it's not true, even if they don't know what the truth really is. But those who have been bullshitted, and somehow absorb the message and become advocates of it, repeat the bullshit without fact-checking, without knowing the truth, and very possibly without knowing what agenda they are pushing!
Like gossip, bullshit takes on a life of its own.
As a result, a fiction writer can use this method of speech, discussed in the book above, to set up a plot involving character assassination. Like a murder mystery, a character-assassination plot would have a FORM -- open form mystery, or closed form mystery.
In open form, the reader sees in the first scene who-done-it (if not how and why), and in closed form, the reader has to unravel the mystery with the detective.
Envision trying to use this "bullshit" method on Colombo -- or say, in current TV shows, Longmire.
I love Longmire's hat, and the way the camera director uses it. But I love the underlying values of the heroic portrayal of this rural, 21st century, sheriff. I love the modern Indian reservation and all their (rather authentic) modern day politics. Longmire is a great show to watch -- and well written enough to learn dialogue writing by studying it, scene for scene.
So, no, a criminal is not going to get away with bullshitting Longmire! (or Colombo).
You can also use this bullshit dialogue methodology to portray the various sides of the thematic issue you are using at the core of your composition.
Use this blog's search-tool (on the right) to search for theme, and you'll get a lot of theme posts. I have to make a long index of them eventually.
The point I make in most of those posts on theme is that it is important to understand your theme, and to create characters who really believe (down to the core of their being) each side of the current arguments on that point in our current culture.
You can't fake it.
You must actually understand where the people who loathe your own personal point of view are coming from, and for that little while that you are writing the dialogue of that character, you must be able to believe it. Yes, it's kind of like "method acting." You have to walk a mile in the moccasins of the characters who shun and despise your personal views, and argue their side of the matter with the character who is representing your view.
The best novels are the ones where there is no character who represents the author's personal views -- so there's no ax-grinding or polemics, no preaching, just good drama.
Which brings us to the second book I found mentioned in a printed on paper newspaper.
I wouldn't have noticed this book except for the roiling and embroiling issues raised by the SFWA Bulletin controversy, sparked by a hapless writer's blogpost (in ignorance of the SFWA issue), and then brought to sharp focus by Ann Aguirre's blog post which drew an instant splashback of several true "hate-speech" emails. Yeah, Ann Aguirre drew hatespeech!
Here's what I posted about this, which contains links so you can research this anti-SFR matter:
So the following Friday, there was a #scifichat on twitter about the eruption of sexism in the science fiction community, and everyone was perfectly civil, used regular English, and tossed around some really thoughtful opinions.
It was astonishing how DIFFERENT the tone was. The folks on #scifichat talk like the Science Fiction fans I grew up with and have known all my life. The people directing hate at Ann Aguirre's blog post did not sound like anyone I'd ever met, and the stories the commenters brought to light of their own experiences likewise sounded like encounters out of the twilight zone.
So when I saw this article on an epidemic of hate online, and I remembered some of the nonsense language posts I've seen in comments on news articles (such as on Yahoo news, and other news posts that allow comments), I realized hate online could be viewed as an "epidemic." These hate-language users represent one of those opinions I keep telling you that you need to include where appropriate in a story -- to use characters to present beliefs that you do not hold personally.
Here's the book on amazon:
Here's the blurb on Amazon:
Emboldened by anonymity, individuals and organizations from both left and right are freely spewing hateful vitriol on the Internet without worrying about repercussions. Lies, bullying, conspiracy theories, bigoted and racist rants, and calls for violence targeting the most vulnerable circulate openly on the web. And thanks to the guarantees of the First Amendment and the borderless nature of the Internet, governing bodies are largely helpless to control this massive assault on human dignity and safety. Abe Foxman and Christopher Wolf expose the threat that this unregulated flow of bigotry poses to the world. They explore how social media companies like Facebook and YouTube, as well as search engine giant Google, are struggling to reconcile the demands of business with freedom of speech and the disturbing threat posed by today’s purveyors of hate. And they explain the best tools available to citizens, parents, educators, law enforcement officers, and policy makers to protect the twin values of transparency and responsibility. As Foxman and Wolf show, only an aroused and engaged citizenry can stop the hate contagion before it spirals out of control—with potentially disastrous results.
Note how many 1-star reviews it has pulled. 1-star is "I hate it."
Look at Ann Aguirre's post (which has made her some new fans and readers!)
Look at the splashback emails she posted right at the end of her item.
This newspaper article advanced the theory that the hatespeech you are seeing flood online venues is coming MOSTLY (not exclusively) from teenagers, and that parents need to police their teen's online behavior better to stop it.
I don't know if there's any value to that suggestion, or any truth at all to the allegation that it's teens -- but wouldn't it be (fictionally) interesting if the hate-email Ann Aguirre got wasn't from any professionals, active fans such as frequent #scifichat, or adults with considered opinions who are ticked off by the skyrocketing sales of SFR compared to the shrinking and shriveling sales of nuts-n-bolts SF? What if she just hit a network of teens who love to "vandalize" blogposts with hatespeech and really have no idea what the subject actually is (and don't have the education to understand it even if someone explained it to them?)
Now that would make a CONFLICT for a novel -- and there's a theme integrated right into that conflict. A Setting of Parenting -- especially single-parent parenting (the article I read pointed to single-parents who don't have TIME to police their kids)?
Can you see the various sides of the argument and how it fits into a Romance?
A woman struggling her way up in a traditionally mans' world profession, -- say widowed when her husband was killed in Iraq? -- and raising kids by herself. Suitor #1 who has bought into the idea that single-parenting produces wayward kids. Suitor #2 advocating casual live-together, but admiring her parenting skills - maybe more than her professional skills? Which will she choose? Or will she look for Suitor #3? Or go the SINGLE route?
Anyone watching THE GLADES? Highly recommended -- not SF, but Detective Mystery -- Mystery-Romance. Shows a man falling in love with a woman-single-parent-medical-student.
This issue - A Woman's Place In The World - and maybe even the very definition of woman and of "mother" - is under furious discussion in our world today, and criss-crosses the Religion borders like crazy.
This is a venue where you can set up any number of Romance Novels plotted around really hot screaming fights (Bullshit dialogue, Liar dialogue, Hatespeech dialogue) liberally laced with sex scenes.
In fact, such screaming fights would tend (in certain cultures) to skip from language to language.
Remember I LOVE LUCY, where Ricki shifts to Spanish when he gets mad?
Who are the really "hot" immigrants today? What language to they shift into when exasperated?
Remember, The Newcomers in Alien Nation? There was Newcomer kid who as a teen became aculturated to Earth and joined a gang -- got himself in lots of trouble with his traditional parents for his LANGUAGE USE.
Now think about all this, and think about the hatespeech directed at Ann Aguirre not as anything to do with her work (those who HATE like that probably haven't read her books which are full of love overcoming the ugliest sides of our violent culture) -- but think of it as being a bigger problem that your readers are encountering in a lot of environments as they struggle to deal with things like being a single parent -- or dealing with kids of single parents who just aren't being properly parented, or some who are better parented than those from two-parent households.
Think of your broadest possible reach as a writer -- and see what you can do applying these dialogue techniques.
Try the classic exercise of putting two characters you know nothing about in a pitch black, can't see or touch each other, environment (a prison, a cave, an elevator in a blackout), and let them just TALK to each other. All you have on your page is DIALOGUE - quotes, without description, just the names of the characters and all you can describe them with is what they say.
In fact, the classic-classic exercise is to write such a two-character dialogue without names, but just speech that is so distinctive the reader can tell who's talking without he-said, she-said. In fact, one exercise is to write such an exchange in such a way that the reader can figure out which one is male and which female, without being told.
Read these books, look at these TV shows, all the while having in mind that you are going to use what you learn to construct such a "limbo set" dialogue exercise.
If you do this read/view/write exercise with enough determination, you may find yourself with the core scene of a dynamite novel. But start first with the conversation in the dark exercise. It's tough, but you'll learn a lot about the difference between dialogue and everyday talking. This would work with a telephone conversation, too -- no videochat, just voice.
by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
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