Updated: Apr 24, 2020
Last year, I had a run-in with a certain computer company that I will never buy anything from again. Before I start out my sad little sob story below, please rest assured that you didn’t read the larger blog’s title wrong. This really is about understanding dialogue.
It's just that I was already going to use an example of real-life discourse to start this discussion. And the one described below is more than good enough to share.
It all began when I bought an ASUS laptop for around $1,000. Two and a half years later, it was literally falling apart, with the front half of the screen splitting from the back half.
Apparently, a hinge broke off in the lower, left-hand corner of the monitor. And then it jammed, turning it into a worrisome situation.
Plus, I couldn't close it. I couldn't really move it much at all. So naturally, I called up ASUS to see what would need to be done.
The resulting dialogue went something like this…
I don't claim the following is an exact copy of what took place when I called. But it captures the essence nonetheless after the ASUS tech representative and I got past the preliminaries.
“So, I’m going to put this down as a customer-damage issue,” he told me with his professional tone and accent that made him a little difficult to follow.
The statement took me aback. Though, considering the stress of the past month weighing down on my shoulders, I wasn't taken aback enough to be left speechless, responding with, “You didn’t even ask me how it happened.”
He paused slightly, perhaps to maintain his calm projection. “How did it happen?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “It just started falling apart a week ago. I didn’t do anything different to it than to any other laptop I’ve ever had, and I’ve never had this issue before.”
“Okay.” Once again, nothing about his vocal inflections changed. “I’m going to put this down as a customer-damaged issue.”
That was it for me. “I want to talk to your manager.”
For the record, it took about 15 minutes for him to connect me with a “supervisor” (why don’t they ever call them managers?) who proceeded to tell me that he couldn’t give me even an estimate on how much fixing the laptop would cost… and that it would take three weeks minimum between sending it in and getting it back.
I never yelled or even really raised my voice with either of them. In that regard, I kept my composure. But I’m not going to lie: After the call ended with nothing resolved, I sobbed for a good moment or two before I pulled myself together.
Which, believe it or not, brings us right into today’s discussion on understanding dialogue.
No doubt, you already recognize that you read several pieces of dialogue above. And if I told you exactly what was said between the ASUS supervisor and myself, you’d have another piece on your hands. Which means that dialogue, at its core, is conversation.
But it’s a conversation that happens as a result of a dozen or so different factors.
In many ways, dialogue is an intersection between the most basic, raw definition of character and the most basic, raw definition of plot. It’s an expression of all the qualities and characteristics that make up any given fictional personality within the confines of a particular moment.
As such, it’s not just what the protagonist or antagonist or best friend or kid sister or half-wit minion character says. It’s also how he, she or it says it; why he, she or it says it; and when.
Therefore, in the case of my dialogue with the ASUS tech representative – as noted toward the top – it came in the middle of a month’s worth of other seemingly non-stop stressors. If I’d had that phone call under different circumstances, I might have handled it in a different manner.
I did, after all, work in customer service-related positions for years. So normally I’m willing to give such people more grace.
In that case though? His automatically dismissive words and tone, as I saw them anyway, grated on my remaining nerves enough that I truly had to hold myself back from yelling at him.
(I still maintain he would have deserved it. Though I also still maintain it probably wouldn't have done any good.)
Similarly, the rep himself wasn’t talking out of a vacuum. He’s been trained to diagnose and resolve caller’s issues as quickly as possible according to a set manual.
In short, we were both coming from somewhat set, somewhat malleable situations that led us to verbally react the way we did.
There’s so much more to unpack here in this week's Writing Challenge and Writing Rule. Stick around, and we'll get your dialogue looking decent... and then some.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on writing story dialogue here.