Best Dialogue in Fantasy

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Philip Overby, May 29, 2015.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    Who writes the best dialogue in fantasy?
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  2. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    Can we vote for ourselves?

    O.K., guess not.

    As I'm swept up by the rising tide of fantasy sub-genre, I am forced to face the new definition of Fantasy. Catered, to the newly emerging generation of consumers.

    O.K., I submit. So, if Fantasy covers such a broad spectrum, it's going to have to include the works of old masters that strangely fit into this new Fantasy definition.

    Chasing a white whale that symbolizes God, around the horn, around the Norway maelstrom and around Perdition's flames...sounds an awful lot like it fits into modern fantasy to me, and not just classic fiction.

    Granted, there are no bears seeking brides in the novel...but I still think it is fantastical enough to reign as King of the castle.

    So, in this case, I go with Melville.

    "What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike."
    Last edited: May 29, 2015
  3. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    Can I split dialogue into two categories?

    For dialogue that flows well with the text and captures a certain feeling of old English, I'd vote Tolkien. His dialogue is rarely natural, but it is poetic and certainly more authentic sounding than the innumerable authors who write dreadful pseudo-Shakespearean... Medienglish.

    For more human, humorous, and yet still very compelling dialogue, I'd go with Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard series.
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I don't know if it's the best dialogue in fantasy, but I agree, Scott Lynch in Lies of Locke Lamora has some of the most fun.

    A nice long page of quotes from goodreads if anyone wants to check some of his lines out.
    The Lies of Locke Lamora Quotes by Scott Lynch
  5. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

    Part of what I like most about Scott Lynch's dialogue is that not only is it buckets of fun with excellent rhythm (his counterpointing of complex and simple is particularly good), but it's always serving a purpose. Either it's heightening tension, or it's twisting the plot, or it's distracting you from other things that are developing so that when that shoe drops, you go, "OH OF COURSE!" but you'd been too busy giggling to put it together.
  6. acapes

    acapes Sage

    One of my votes is for Eddings. He usually writes great banter, though it can be a bit much at times. Still, I do love his books.
  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    These threads often focus on funny or florid prose, so I'll answer with Richard Parks, who's great at naturalistic dialogue. He's not very quotable and doesn't have a lot of laugh lines, but his characters feel very human.
  8. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    I've always thought Tolkien excelled at dialogue. I mean, you can't beat the conversation between Bilbo and Gandalf at the beginning of The Hobbit. Small excerpt:

    I'd also suggest Roger Zelazy's Amber books and really anything he writes.
  9. Russ

    Russ Istar

    There is kind of a spectrum of great dialogue. At one end I think I would place Tolkien, at the other Mieville.
  10. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    What I've learnt from reading Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora is that you should be careful when trying to make your dialogue funny that it doesn't come off as unnatural. Scott Lynch (it seems to me, at least) was so focused on trying to make his characters spark off incredibly clever and witty lines that there are times when it sounds like he's ... I dunno, trying too hard, I guess. Sometimes he does hit that mark and I'm laughing, but other times it's like the book is saying "U mad, bruh? Can't handle this wit. Look at how witty I am. These characters communicate almost entirely in obscure metaphors. 3witty5u." And I'm just rolling my eyes.

    So I guess what I've learned is to keep it real. Say to yourself 'does this actually sound like something a person would say?'
  11. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I agree, Gryphos. I liked Lies of Locke Lamora, but I didn't love it.

    However, I have a massive amount of respect for humor writers and writers who can infuse serious stories with veins of humor. It's extremely difficult to do well, in my opinion.

    Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.- Josh Whedon

    Whedon is right on. Even serious stories benefit from occasional bits of humor. It's something I still struggle with in every story I write. Maybe it's my next growth area.... I don't know, but I find it harder than any other aspect of craft.
  12. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    Oh absolutely. I love it when an author is able to put in those moments that make you laugh in an otherwise serious story. I just think Scott Lynch missed the mark by trying too hard and it resulted in dialogue that sounded quite artificial.
  13. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Wow, and I loved it through and through. I get what you're saying, though. I think sometimes it's about conviction and sometimes books might have loads of one-liners, but the characters aren't really embracing their words--it comes off as being written, rather than being spoken by an authentic individual. I loved TLoLL and thought the whole flow of the story-telling was the most brilliant thing I've read in years. In fact, it was everything I wished I could accomplish (and have been trying to), but maybe that's just because that's the sort of thing that really speaks to me.

    Since we're talking about dialogue and it's getting a little muddled with voice, I'm going to throw Oscar Wilde into the mix: “Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”
    Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

    I remember when I read this book and was drawn in by the language. The complexity of thought captivated me and the coarse analogies and cruel assessment of those things that might ought to be cruelly assessed spoke to me. It was a raw feeling, but poetically delivered.
  14. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    I would say Steven Brust. The dialogue in his Vlad Taltos series is what I tend to enjoy most about it. It's snappy and distinctive, and effective in advancing the plot while being interesting.
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  15. Trick

    Trick Auror

    I'd second Brust if I had read more of his work. They're on the list, of course. I liked Lev Grossman's dialogue because it felt real but I don't think it would have worked as well in a different setting; for instance, epic fantasy. He'd obviously do it differently but could he do it as well? Who can say.

    I've always liked dialogue that let you get to know the character better while serving the plot. I think Mark Lawrence achieves this, even if his characters are somewhat over the top (not a criticism, I love his characters, or hate them, depending...)
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  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I don't think I can separate dialog out from the rest of writing. Even in the examples given on this thread, several include a good deal of description, internal reaction, or the like. Not the stuff in quotes. And if you deliver only the stuff in quotes, it comes off rather anemic. I can say who I think writes well, and they write good dialog; I can't think of anyone who writes dialog well but doesn't handle other aspects well. Even the funny lines or memorable lines are, imo, only that because the *characters* are funny or memorable.

    So I have to bow out on this one. I only dropped in to say I have nothing to contribute. :)
  17. Kazzan

    Kazzan Dreamer

    Steven Erickson in The Book of the Fallen series wrote some pretty good dialogue at times. It's also highly quotable. Though he does suffer from pages of philosophical ponderings, though these are not really part of the dialogue.
    GRRM has done some nice dialogue in his ASoIaF series, and I do think he is a brilliant writer. He does manage to sometiemes convey deeper meaning to the words his characters speak and most of the time it flows fluidly.
  18. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Troubadour

    There's no doubt, Lynch's dialogue is fantastic, and it's clear he's aiming for the comical element in much of it. But there is great dialogue in books with a much darker tone as well. I'm speaking of authors such as Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams, Terry Brooks, Robert Jordon, and Raymond E. Feist. It's true there are comical elements sprinkled about in those works as well, but much of their dialogue is serious, often somber, and at times, morbidly dark. But comical or dark, if it advances the story, sounds natural, and suites the mood, I consider it good dialogue. As in real life, even the same person will speak differently under different circumstances. It's often a requirement if one wishes to retain their teeth and an unbroken nose. Unfortunately, having the common sense of knowing when to be serious and when to be comical is not a gift all of us possess.

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