Thoughts On Dialogues | both the fictional and non fictional kind

On Monday I shall present for my class by memory a Socratic dialogue I have written.

I have always found writing new things interesting, whether it be puzzling over a new poetry forms, reorganizing preexistent phrases as seen in bookbinder poetry, or experimenting with different point of views and tenses in a scene.

Writing a Socratic dialogue was one such challenge.

As a novelist, I have written many exchanges of various lengths between various characters in various situations. I have, in fact, written literal thousands of conversations.

In my opinion snatches of dialogues are some of the most enjoyable things to write towards a story, because there are often many layers to them, even the type of dialogue which is nothing more than a mere polite formality to the participants. A remark on the weather, a inquiry of health, and a couple other statements of the obvious.

You see there is the type of dialogue in which people actually say what they mean, then there is the type of dialogue in which people do not.

There are the tense dialogues, the kind filled with conflict, the confrontation type. There is the simple exchange of information. Bits like “There is leftover pizza from last night in the fridge that you can warm up for lunch,” or “This is an algebraic problem that should be solved for the variable ‘x’ by factoring,” or “They have twenty night guards you can take them out if you sneak around the back wall and use your bow.”

There is flirtatious banter and cruel banter and nervous banter, the kind involved before a big game or operation by waiting parties.

There are conversations centered around get-to-know you questions, the large, prying, silly ones like “What is your greatest fear?” or “What is your least favorite subject?” or “What is the color of your toothpaste?”

There are conversations that hinge on stories, whether they be those bragging claims between kids, comparing their favorite unbelievable I-heard-from-my-friend-that-their-friend stories, those personal stories and testimonies told on dates, or those hardship tales told to friends who are willing to listen.

And there are the conversations in which involved parties disagree, agree, and disagree again, laying out opinions and statistics they heard somewhere on any given topic under the sun.

And finally, some of the most intriguing, dialogues that end with the question, instead of starting with it.

Overall, there are many types of dialogues. Many kinds I have played with as I manipulate characters through their mazes.

But this was new.

I had never written a full boiled-down, simple, back and forth exchange, absent of speaker tags and the context of body language and the descriptions of the words being barked, growled, grunted, yelled, whispered, whimpered, stuttered, pronounced, smirked, or sneered.

As I point nervously to the universal truth that plays itself out every day in millions of households, on millions of streets, in millions of school and office buildings, tone is everything and they were stripping away the safety cushions that my dialogues fit in so comfortably.

If it were that alone, it would be a simple matter of hammering out the specific words and phrases to precision, charging them with the electricity and energy that would show there was no reason for signposts.

But not just that, I had never before tried to copy the eloquent style of a Greek orator mildly, condescendingly, sarcastically, philosophizing. Specifically: leading along his poor victim, tearing down said victim’s every argument, until there is nothing left to do but arrive at the obvious conclusion from the presented problem.

Which meant I needed a clear argument, lots of big words on hand, and a big conclusion with a clear definition for some vague and mostly abstract idea like “color” or “hero” or “knowledge.”

As I do with many assignments, I spent some time mulling it over, brainstorming, and thinking up a plan to execute. After a couple days of still being unsure of what to write on, I explained to my dad the basic idea (that of a conversation between a ‘teacher’ and a ‘student’ exploring a topic and trying to define something) and then asked for ideas.

He laughed and said: “Define good art.”

Once he said it, I realized that I should have guessed what his answer would be. I don’t remember the first time he told me his definition of good art, and I couldn’t say how many times we’ve conversed over it after watching a movie as a family or reading a book. Neither the amount of times I tested have it and threw things at it to see if it would shatter.

In essence, I realized that my family has had many Socratic dialogues; that they aren’t a foreign concept in the end. They are quite simple. All you need are at least two interlocutors – that is two people ready to take part in a conversation – and a place to begin: a question.

Like: What is the worth of investing in a personal library?

Or: Do you think Bilbo is a hero?

Or: How do you think communities form?

After I had written the entire dialogue for the assignment, printed it out for my parents to proofread, it came up at dinner. I explained the concept and the topic I had decided to write on to my siblings who had not heard about it yet.

“When did you write it?” one of my sisters asked.

“It’s been in the works for the past couple years,” my dad said.

“Really I just asked the question during a conversation and secretly recorded what everyone said and wrote it down later,” I joked.

Except, as with every joke, it’s partially true.

Even though everything up to the final conclusion on page three of my dialogue is original and completely thought up by me over the course of the last couple weeks, it all felt familiar. This, I thought, is well trodden ground.

One well-known element of a dialogue is style: the way it is cushioned comfortably. Sometimes by witty side comments, as if the narrator is watching a romcom and calling out jokes. Other times it’s a more scrutinizing approach where the narrator comes across as a critic at the movies taking notes for an upcoming review and picking apart everyone’s responses. “No, no, he must be lying. Ah she is scared! I know it. And he, he’s just a jerk, pay no attention to him – at least not more than necessary. He does have a point there on that topic…”

Or maybe the prose is penned by a Charles Dickens, springing up an essay for each sentence on the effects of studying afterhours, the different ways one can cut bread, or a history lecture on the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

And then there’s the occasions where an author steps back and leaves out everything to make a point. Going from scrutiny, rants, opinions, second-guessings, to one simple fact and letting it hang in the air. Hang in the white space all alone.

Just one thought.

And that was what the Socratic dialogue made me think about. When is less more, and when is silence louder than words? How much of a story could you tell with just the tool of dialogue? What if an entire conversation was void of commentary? How would that go in a novel?

Open a story, copy and paste a chapter in a new document, delete everything outside of quotation marks.

How does it stand?

It’s an interesting experiment to be sure. It lives along the lines of artistic boundaries, as mused on last week, that push your assumptions, that force you to get creative, that aid you in the end.

Like when you look at a friend across the room and smile, or give them a hug, sometimes it’s not what is said, but what is left unsaid that is most powerful.

Context is everything.

Student: What is good art?

And so it started.

Teacher: Meaning what differentiates art that is bad or mediocre to art that is "good"? 
Student: Yes.
Teacher: Excuse me for answering your question with another question,
 but what makes anything good?
Student: I'm not sure what you mean.
Teacher: Let me rephrase...

I lied earlier.

Okay not exactly, but I said that Socratic dialogues are easy.

After I had already said it was challenging. Here’s why: I found out quickly that, though I knew my father’s definition I would use as the conclusion, it was only an end goal. I had no idea how to arrive at the conclusion. I had to lead up to it somehow.

I did eventually, strangely enough, find some premises to the argument, but again, it was a puzzle.

Not only that, I earlier participating in dialogues isn’t that complicated. And yes while it isn’t in essence a complicated idea, it can be hard. Yet over the past year through a look at Socratic dialogues in my class and comparing it to my experiences, I’ve realized there are definite ways not only to kill a conversation, but that there are ways to kindle it too.

So I’ve come up with five observations about what it means to converse intentionally, kindly, and thoroughly.

5 Ways to Cultivate a Healthy Dialogue

#1. Be present

Don’t get distracted, don’t be doing something else, don’t be on your phone, don’t be reading a book. Be present mentally and be willing to take part in the conversation even if it means some work.

Simply put… care about the conversation.

Value it. Value the people. Value the people through valuing the conversation.

#2. Listen | everyone brings their own expertise to the table

Conversations in our household vary in topic. From old Greek epics (“should I read the Iliad or the Odyssey first?“) to scientific discoveries (“what would happen to earth’s orbit if the sun suddenly disappeared?”) and so on. So while I am not very knowledgeable about Greek epics, and don’t know scientific terms by name or the mathematical formula for gravity memorized, I can still ask questions. I can still listen. I can give a perspective if called for. And if we veer into the topic of literature trivia, I can aid with facts there.

Don’t assume you are an expert at the topic at hand. Instead listen to the perspective of others, give them the chance to speak up. Ask specific people if they are silent. They probably have something to say.

And on the other hand don’t assume if it’s a topic you don’t know much about, that the conversation is a waste of time.

#3. When testing definitions, being willing to offer one yourself

Another facet of being willing to take part in the conversation. Be willing to put things out for people to tear it down. It’s might be the reason no one else is speaking up. In my experience people don’t speak up because 1.) they don’t care. 2.) they think the answer is obvious and feel stupid pointing it out, or 3.) they are worried about sticking their head out there to be target practice for the others.

Even if you don’t know a definition, make one up for the sake of testing it and say things like “Let’s try this definition. Where does it fall short? How can we change it to be more accurate?”

#4. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or examples | relate to your experiences and the experiences of others, chart out things if called for, etc.

This is very important. Often conversations go for over an hour only to end with people realizing they agree, they were just wording it differently. It’s important to strive to understand other people’s stances, experiences, and thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to ask, “what do you mean by that?” Don’t be afraid to say, “What about this what happened to me… how would you classify that on your list?”

#5. Let it flow naturally | know the difference between forcing direction and listening

This is part of point 2, but, as my debate coaches drill into my stubborn head, listen and respond off that. Don’t assume people want to talk about this exact take on this topic, this exact issue, this drilled-in specific question. Don’t check off boxes. Let the conversation flow, new ideas will come in, new perspectives.

Don’t sound like you’ve planned the entire conversation out.

If that’s your plan then you don’t understand what a conversation is.

In conclusion! from this rambling post about my Socratic dialogue ordeal:

  1. Dialogues are fascinating. (Mostly because people are fascinating.)
  2. It is once again true that boundaries help creativity.
  3. Conveying emotions of a person merely through exactly what they say – the bare bones plain ole black text of their dialogue – is difficult and near impossible. (When do characters, or people, ever actually say what they mean?)
  4. Once you start being intentional about conversations, it makes a difference.


Your thoughts?

Why not… you know… start a conversation about it? ๐Ÿ˜‰

(Okay sorry that was a pretty stupid joke but it was only natural. xD)

What do you like about writing dialogues? Have you ever read a Socratic dialogue? What are some conversation techniques you use a lot?

Until next week!

~ evelyn ~

32 thoughts on “Thoughts On Dialogues | both the fictional and non fictional kind”

  1. Wow. Those were some deep ideas! I’ve never really thought that much about dialogue, but after this…I am enlightened. The part about taking out everything in a chapter except for dialogue is highly intriguing. Random thing that popped into my head: movies, I think, are largely centered around dialogue, and viewers really get a sense for what’s going on based on it. Sure, there’s action and other stuff in the script, but the heart of a movie is dialogue, while the heart of a novel can be something else.

    And those conversation techniques were spot on! I’ve noticed conversation tends to die down (resulting in that horrendous awkward silence *shivers*) when one party (or both) don’t really care about the other person and only talks about what they’re interested in. If I don’t care about someone, I might as well not talk to them. Or, you know, I could just be a cowardly anti-social introvert and not engage in conversation at all. XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I’ve always been curious about movie scripts and have wanted to get my hands on one to answer questions I have like how descriptive are they in their scene changes or stage prompts? How much of it is just straight dialogue? And then how much liberty does a director take with it?

      Haha thanks, I’m afraid I have had much experience in those horrendous conversations *shivers with you*
      And it’s from my realization of apathy in certain conversations that I came up with that point. Hopefully now I’ll fight against it. ๐Ÿ˜›

      I’m glad the post was interesting to more people than just me! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a really interesting read! It is fascinating to think of all the different kinds of dialogues and how the can function in a story- as well as in real life. I think I read some Socratic dialogues for a philosophy class I took last year, but it’s all a bit of a blur honestly. The concept is familiar though.
    I don’t know why I do this, but I sometimes write dialogue scenes without any descriptors. It is an interesting exercise, to see how much of the emotion you can relay to the reader without spelling it out. I’ve never written a true Socratic dialogue, but I have sometimes written dialogues that explore concepts in a similar way.
    In my actual stories I find that I overuse the relaying of information type of dialogue. It’s so easy to get trapped in a vortex of plot-exposition. More recently I have done way more dialogue exercises with my characters- I say “exercises,” but I really just mean forcing my characters to talk to each other- and I think I’m getting better at making the conversations more natural. At least I can hope.
    I love the definition of good art conversation! My family and friends have that conversation ALL THE TIME. It never gets old. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it?? I kinda want to make a more defined list and then try writing the different kinds more intentionally just to see what happens and how it changes my craft and habits.
      Haha no problem. I’m sure it will be more of a blur for me once a year passes as well. I’ve found this year that I can’t for the life of me remember somethings here and there my classmates talk about from last year. ๐Ÿ˜›
      Oh really? That’s awesome! Do you sometimes end up using those scenes in a story?
      Haha I relate I think questions from my MC to other characters like “What now?” or “Where are we going?” or “Who is that person?” are a bit common in my novels. Maybe I just have a clueless MC or I’m trying to hide my infodumps in dialogue instead of prose and descriptions. ๐Ÿ˜†
      Yes! The good art conversation is a well worn path, but always seems to give something new.
      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do sometimes use those conversations in stories. My writing process has shifted over the years and at this point I tend to write a bunch of disjointed scenes (many of which are simply dialogue with no context written in) and eventually a story appears…theoretically.
        Haha, my MC is almost ALWAYS clueless. Which, of course, is a brilliant excuse for info-dumps to occur. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Eyyy ME TOO. Is that not … I don’t know… strange?
          I write that way and I thought it was you know the *wrong* way.
          Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes I drive myself crazy doing it. ๐Ÿ˜†
          Exactly. Isn’t it brilliant? ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I don’t think there is really a “wrong” way to write- except to NOT write. Every writer has a different process. And every process has its strengths and weaknesses. Most writing processes probably drive the writer crazy for one reason or another. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I had such a hard time writing my/my partnerโ€™s Socratic Dialogue too, it just felt so formal and I kept feeling like my brain was hitting a wall every time I tried to think of where I wanted it to go. We did ours on whether itโ€™s ethical for the government to force people to stay in their homes, and I feel like it just took a super looong time to get to a fairly obvious conclusion. But we did discuss freedom vs safety and how our country balances them, and it was kind of neat to explore why we come to our conclusions.
    I love all your points about good conversation! I think Iโ€™ve learned so many skills like that from CC. Iโ€™m so sad I only have two weeks left.:( (Iโ€™m not doing Ch3 or 4.)
    What is your conclusion about good art? My class has had at least three long discussions about that question this year, and I donโ€™t know if we ever came to an exact conclusion.
    (I hope this doesnโ€™t go to the spam folder, Iโ€™ve been having an issue with that lately.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, by the end I was writing things like “ill-laid path” instead of “bumpy road.” xD *shrugs* I guess it comes with the territory – trying to be formal.

      Oh how interesting! A very hot topic. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Have you already presented it?

      Thanks! I’ve learned SO much from CC beyond the official things in the guide. Things like understanding people and conversations and how to work with people without strangling them. You know. That kind of stuff. ๐Ÿ˜† ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Aww, only two weeks left?? Well congrats on finishing! It’s a big achievement. I hope the last couple weeks are wonderful!

      The conclusion the Teacher and Student in my dialogue came to (I must give credit to my dad because it’s actually his haha) is “Good art is art that accurately depicts what was, what is, or what could be.” My personal definition is not fully formed but it holds the core values of that one, plus some nods to artistic and good presentation. I haven’t decided to what extent though.

      Eyyy it didn’t. Congrats for not looking like a spammer. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Thanks for commenting Audrey!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We havenโ€™t yet, I think we are during tomorrowโ€™s class. My tutor mentioned something about not having to memorize all of it because a lot of the โ€œpresentationโ€ aspect is already going to be taken away by having to do it over the internet. I sure hope thatโ€™s true, otherwise I have a lot of questions to memorize. XD

        Oh yeah, debate definitely taught me a TON about listening to otherโ€™s ideas, and helping people instead of just doing all the work for them, and not strangling people who one week before the debate go โ€œHey we should come up with a negative counter plan!โ€

        Thank you! Iโ€™m going to miss my classmates so much!

        Thatโ€™s a great conclusion! I had to write a short essay for midterm Blue Books in that question, and my main conclusion was that good art should show truth, even if itโ€™s not a beautiful truth.

        Youโ€™re welcome! (For commenting. Being in quarantine has made me more chatty, so I apologize for the longer-than-normal comments.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I hope it goes well then, good luck!

          Haha, yeah it’s been an interesting experience having class online. I love a few random things (which surprised me), and I absolutely hate other parts. But I try to focus on the good ya know. ๐Ÿ˜›

          Yes. Debate is… a learning curve. And mainly the part that has to do with working with other people in that context. ๐Ÿ˜†

          Thanks! Sounds like you’re on the same track with the showing truth. I like though how you highlight the fact that it’s art even if it shows the ugly truth.

          (Haha no problem. I completely understand. I’m afraid I’m guilty of the same conduct. xD)


  4. oh.
    this is amazing.

    i feel like i need to read it, say, five more times to make sure i get everything. ๐Ÿ™ƒ seriously, tho, there is so much here to chew on!

    i loved the five point plan for having better conversations! ๐Ÿ˜Š living in a big family (where every member LOVES to talk) i’ve come to realize how crucial these things are for having productive and healthy conversations. i have a problem with dominating the conversation, but i’m learning that while it may start out interesting to me (and only me), the whole thing fizzles out very quickly. how important it is to listen, to appreciate what others have to say, and to value the ideas and thoughts of others.

    all this talk about socratic dialogue and greek mythology is making me feel highly uneducated. ๐Ÿ˜‚ i missed this in school, so i guess i gotta catch up on all the ancient literature by myself. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    also, fictional dialogue is like torture for me. I FAIL. MAJORLY. ๐Ÿ˜‘ like, seriously, it’s so incredibly boring, no joke. ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

    wonderful thoughts on dialogue, evelyn! you have some very perceptive ideas that are worth listening to. great post!! โค๏ธ

    Liked by 1 person

      1. yess i totally get that. sometimes I just want to forget grammar stuff ya know? i’m so glad i’m not the only one ๐Ÿ˜† let me join you. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        aaaaah that’s so crazy to me! i mean, like five times? i’m flattered. i feel like i’ve been chewing on a lot of jumbled things that are vaguely connected and sometimes when i try to write them down and connect them i feel so mixed up and more confused than i am helpful.

        i have weird conversation habits. i think the easiest way to summarize it is “it depends on who i am around” except that you have to account mood and situation and circumstance and lots of other things in there too. sometimes i’m basically yelling in peep’s faces for an entire party and then the next day i am hiding in the corner or sitting and listening to everyone mutely. even if i’m with the same people sometimes *facepalm*

        haha, again i understand too well, almost any time one of my siblings or basically anyone outside of my family (so almost anyone) speaks about something i’m mentally kicking myself for not being smarter or more knowledgeable and wishing i could disappear. know you aren’t missing much though. ๐Ÿ˜† ๐Ÿ˜‰

        wait really?? it’s like the best thing ever. hmm. we will have to fix this…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. let us abandon grammar to the wind and live our lives with freedom and joy!!! (say the kid who walks around her house correcting everybody’s grammatically incorrect sentences. ๐Ÿ˜ฌ)

          same, girl, same. my blog posts usually feel like a convoluted mess of fragmented parts and no one even knows what’s going on, least of all me…๐Ÿ˜‚

          okay, yeah, again, i can relate. sometimes all i do is talk, talk, talk right up in people’s faces that i’ve met like three minutes ago and other times i don’t talk to my sister for like three days, not because i’m mad at her just cuz i don’t feel like talking. *joins you in the face-palming*

          so, i LOVE writing dialogue. it’s one of my favorite things to write…it’s just that i’m terrible at it. writing the dialogue isn’t boring, the dialogue itself is boring, that’s my problem. *cries* ๐Ÿ˜‘๐Ÿ˜‘๐Ÿ˜‘

          Liked by 1 person

        2. hahaha SAME tho.

          your posts do not. *snorts* your posts are the best thing ever. they are so happy and bubbly and always have interesting things to say.

          ahh i’m not the only one. let us lounge in the glory of our confusions.

          hmmm. why do I doubt that? ๐Ÿ˜†


  5. I. Love. This. I adore writing dialogue, but Iโ€™ve never tried writing Socratic dialogue like thatโ€”actually you know what, I did once! But… I failed to actually give any hints of what it was about and it makes no sense. ๐Ÿ˜† Iโ€™m not usually a big talker unless you know me well, but I love listening to people talk and filing it away for stories later. ๐Ÿ˜‚
    And yeah, 98% of the time, my main character does not mean a word he actually says… ๐Ÿ˜œ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, I quickly discovered that in order to right a Socratic dialogue you have to know exactly where it is going. ๐Ÿ˜› Ahh same. I can talk a lot but it depends on the circumstances. I feel like that’s essentially something that applies to everyone, talking and other such behavior and the extent of it depends on who they are around and how comfortable they are. (Or desperate or other factors.) It’s an interesting thing to think about as a writer!
      MY MC TOO. High-five! ๐Ÿ˜†
      Oh boi. You silly thing.
      *pats him on the head*


  6. This was so cool!!!! and informative!! …and so insightful!!?

    Dialogue SO HARD for me to write. I’m working on it. XD

    I’ve never read a Socratic dialogue, but a friend of mine is writing one right now.

    Honestly, in conversations, a good self-deprecating joke about myself almost always breaks the ice nicely and other people open up more. I love the group conversations where people keep exchanging funnier and funnier stories until everyone is laughing too hard to talk. It’s gold.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, THANKS. I’m so glad you think so, because it was literally just me musing and pulling thoughts out of hats. x’D

      Dialogue is so *fun* though and worth the work. Keep going, you got it!

      Oh cool! Do you know what your friend’s is about? Just out of curiosity, I find it interesting what everyone comes up with.

      Haha I try those too, and it works with most people! …but I have met a couple people that I think were honestly disturbed that I make fun of myself. Poor people, I’m not sure how they survive life. ๐Ÿ˜†
      It’s gold indeed. I loved reading about the chair story. Though it reminded me a lot of myself and not in a graceful way. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll ask her. :)))

        I’ve had those people too. XD I just awkwardly clear my throat and try to leave the conversation in the least painful way possible. lol

        I’m so glad you enjoyed it. haha It was really funny and also kind of typical of me, so it probably wasn’t //the// most embarrassing moment, but it was one of the most entertaining ones. ;P

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, its slightly comical to think about afterwards, but in the moment all I can think about is the sudden silence and the way they’re staring at me in shock and confusion. It’s okay guys, I’m joking about my friends being clinically insane and about my inability to reach dishes on the top shelf. ๐Ÿ˜†

          Well kind of.


  7. This is absolutely fascinating, Evelyn! Makes me want to pull out one of my manuscripts and take out all the dialogue/action tags and everything to see how it looks. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Ah, #1 on your list… *hides under desk* I’m really easily distracted, so that’s something I need to work on.
    Loved every bit of this post; you really have a way with words. ๐Ÿ˜Šโค (And that gif at the end is so perfect! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should!! It’s very amusing. ๐Ÿ˜€
      Hahaha ME TOO. That’s why that note is there, it was directed at me and my problems. ๐Ÿ˜† Often I loose interest, begin to naturally look somewhere else while nodding and uhhuh-ing (sure we’ll make it a word xD) and then the person I’m talking too just kinda clears their throat and then I’m like OH YEAH. Hi there. ๐Ÿ˜›
      Awwwe thanks Chalice(: โค
      (And thanks, I was quite proud. xD)


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