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Talking Head Syndrome 1699


Last night I was listening a college lecture about writing on YouTube last night. In it, he said not to have characters doing things most of the time usually while they are talking. This goes against what I have been told about Talking Head Syndrome. I have been told by reviewers—who have gotten on EqD—to not go more than one or two paragraphs of dialog without somepony doing something.

This makes sense to me. Recently, I watched Red Letter Media's review of the Star Wars prequels and one of the main complaints that he had with the movie was how whenever the characters are talking, they're always sitting down or staring at a CGI landscape. He compared it to the new Star Trek movie, where they're often running around the ship while talking. But those are both movies and they work in different ways than prose fiction does.

I don't know, what do you think?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWdE1J2U7A8&feature=share&list=PLFAB0B0381EA9A36A (Skip to around 5:00)
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Ion-Sturm 1701

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I imagine my stories as being movies, which I'm transcribing to text. As such, the characters are very expressive and are constantly gesturing in my imagination, which I then try to relay through exposition interspersed between bits of dialogue. It's a balancing act since, obviously, to describe every action would completely swamp the story, but to not have it makes the chatting bland and uninteresting.

This isn't to say you can't have long swatches of a character talking, though. Terry Pratchett, for example, sometimes has his characters talk for nearly a whole page length without a single spot of exposition. However, he accomplishes this by having the speaker address the actions of the listener at certain points. They'll tell them to not try to sneak off (which puts into one's mind the image of the character trying to inch away), that they're not finished speaking yet (which implies the other character had just opened their mouth to interject/respond ect.), or in one instance, "Put away the pitchforks and torches, I'm not bloody done talking yet!". Little tricks like this can make it feel as if the other characters in the scene aren't just standing stiff like a board, a vacant look in their eyes as a bit of drool seeps from the corner of a limp mouth.

The same also works for long chunks of exposition. Say your characters are walking through a palace. You're describing the setting here, but it's dragging its feet a bit, yet to add dialogue would just keep the story in low-gear for even longer. Instead, you add something like "Character A commented on a not-so-chaste tapestry that was hanging above the door, causing Character B to hide a blush and instead examine the plush carpets." Not the best example, but here the exposition is giving the idea that the characters are talking and makes the scene dressing more natural. Instead of just stating what's in the room, it's given a purpose (in this case, to establish/maintain a character's, er, character, in the form of their actions and reactions to something).

In the end, what truly matters is that it's interesting. If you make an entire story without a single line of dialogue interesting, then the lack of it is a non-issue (in fact, I've given thought to doing something like this myself).

Such is my views on the matter.
My view being that the Youtube guy is wrong, FYI. The only rule in writing that is absolute is "will it maintain the reader's interest?"

Edit: He's wrong on it being an absolute, but in general not swamping your story with attributions is a good idea. Thought I should clarify that.
This post was edited by its author on .

soundslikeponies!bQsJPGMNfw 1704

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Talking head syndrome is something that is over-criticized in this fandom. It's perfectly acceptable to have 3-5 lines with no attribution to the dialogue if the dialogue itself can carry its weight.

Either with back and forth banter that's meant to be fast and witty, or with in depth dialogue where what's being said is more important than the characters' minor body language.

Talking Head Syndrome is when there's a lack of body language or emotion going into the dialogue when there should be. Some dialogue can carry the emotion purely through what's being said, and doesn't need narrative alongside it.
"You said you'd take care of my son."

"I said I would make sure your son is well cared for, and he is. A group of guards are out there looking for him right now."

"You said he'd be kept safe!"

The Captain of the Guard lowered his eyes, staring at the map sprawled out on his desk. "I'm sorry…"

Thimble bit her lip, tears welling up in her eyes. She let out a broken sob and turned to leave his tent.
If you want an example of the witty banter kind…
"How are things?" Twilight asked, trotting up to Rarity with a smile.

"Bad," Rarity answered.



"How bad? Is it bad-bad or just sorta-bad?"


Twilight leaned around to look at Rarity; the dressmaker's eyes were bloodshot and barely open, staring off into the distance. Suddenly, Rarity's head dropped face first onto the table, and loud snores came from her shortly after.

So there's places for it. The third I didn't mention is when you have characters say a lot at once, and any dialogue attribution is sort of wasted in those cases, since it just serves to distract from what the character is saying. (Think paragraph long dialogue.)
This is probably the type of dialogue that the video you linked talked about. Dialogue where the dialogue contains so much information that body language and characterization is distracting when inserted into the character's narrative.
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Good topic is good.

When someone complains about talking heads, it means that they got bored. They probably got bored because you either forgot what your characters want or failed to clearly communicate that desire.

So double-check that stuff first.

Bleeding Rain!DROPScczL2 1858

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I've always encountered a similar problem. In my latest story, I decided to employ a technique I've seen work before. It was mostly just me being lazy, but I had the characters talk while solving a puzzle, and interjected a few 'they placed another piece' here and there. I'll see if it paid off when Writer's Block hands it back.

Although, after looking at the thread, I may not have needed it, as the nature of the dialogue would have held up on its own, in my totally humble and unbiased opinion.
This post was edited by its author on .


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Here's a question for all you smart people, in the same vein as talking heads: floating heads on a whiteboard.

How often do you need to mention the scenery? Example: in my next chapter, a bunch of ponies are standing outside on a grassy hill, waiting while somepony examines Spike after… well, after bad things happened to him. So, because of this, they are mostly stationary. SO, how many different ways, and how often is it needed, for them to interact with the scenery before it gets vague?

I_Post_Ponies!7ZxXoTz/pI 1873

File: 1354580000206.png (58.53 KB, 894x894, ditto_smeel_by_gerronimo4520-d…)

I use it as a tool. If there's one or two lines that are more dramatic or powerful than the others, I start talking about the scenery. It forces the reader to slow down and dither on your message without annoying them (hopefully).

I also use it to show emotions like boredom (picking at leaves) or anger (tearing up grass).

So to me, it isn't "how often" but, instead, "Why". If there is no "Why", then I never talk about it.

Demetrius!WDFBcC5x22 1894

Setting is, well, setting. It should serve the purposes of the story, for strengthening the tone or just for immersion's sake. I like to think the same principle in sympathetic weather can apply to the setting often.

I personally am of the opinion that setting should all be developed as close to the beginning of any line of narration as possible. However, dynamic attributes of setting, i.e. noises, can still be useful out in the middle for breaking up dialogue and avoid talking head syndrome.

Soundslikeponies!bQsJPGMNfw 1928

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Don't randomly mention scenery in the middle of conversation. The only way it should be mentioned is as part of relevant action, when it's relevant to the dialogue, or when the setting is active or changes in some way.

Relevant action:
>"Books, I…" Twilight's eyes fell, tracing the wooden grain of the floorboards.
Relevant to the dialogue:
>"We should probably get inside, huh?" Dash said.

>Twilight glanced up at the sky. A thick cloud cover had rolled in without her noticing, and already it looked like it could rain at any moment.

Active setting:
>"But, Twilight!" Dash cried, clenching her eyes shut and biting her lip. "I love you!"

>Twilight felt a drop of water hit her back as a soft rainfall began. The words she'd been about to say died in her throat, and instead she held a hoof out to the rain. "Really, Shipfic Author? Rain? How cliche are you going to get?"

>Dash looked up and rolled her eyes. "I swear, they do this every time!"

You might notice a similarity between all of these. They all involve the character in the setting description. If you feel the need to do some straight exposition, at least precede it with. "Twilight looked at X. (Description of X.)" or something similar.

Eustatian!Wings60m9. 1940

>somepony examines Spike after… well, after bad things happened to him

There's your interesting material, so show that. Unless you're having to tone down gore, and then you show reactions. Simple.

> If you feel the need to do some straight exposition, at least precede it with. "Twilight looked at X. (Description of X.)" or something similar.

With all respect, why? It doesn't matter what the author wants. It matters what the characters want and what the reader can be expected to want.

Say I cold-open like this:

Twilight Sparkle snuggled her spine into the back of the couch. She was perfectly cozy here despite the storm outside. Her tail lay in an elegant curve across her hindquarters, underscoring a large pink star emblazoned on her purple coat. One hoof swayed absently in the warm firelight. A crock of warm cider steamed forgotten on the table next to her, and most important of all, a book floated before her face, its covers aflicker with the lilac fire of her magic.

The same hue of light limned the horn set above her eyes, which skittered this way and that as she read.

Now where does this go? If the first story beat is Twilight reading something significant, I have wasted your time. Sure, this feels good, but the important part would be what Twilight is reading about, no?

All this description implies an observer, so that's one direction the story could go.

Fluttershy turned to leave. It wasn't that important after all, and Twilight looked so happy anyway. The floor squeaked under her hooves and Fluttershy froze in place. Twilight lowered her book and peered over it.

"Oh, um," Fluttershy began. Twilight didn't look annoyed yet, and for a moment Fluttershy thought she'd apologize and excuse herself. "It's not that important, but I…" A fresh breeze whistled through the trees outside and slapped a curtain of rain against the siding. Twilight tweaked an ear toward it but kept her eyes on Fluttershy's face, calm and unjudging.

Fluttershy hated wasting anypony's time, but since she had started she might as well finish. "I think the roof is leaking in my room. It's getting a little wet."

Vonnegut's rule is that every sentence advances plot or character, which I think is what you're getting at, but you can be even more bullish:

Cutting to scenery implies something about the story. Cutting to irrelevant scenery implies your perspective doesn't want to tell the reader something. Maybe it's boring, or embarrassing, or too gross, or too sexy, but not telling is itself a message to the reader.

Sending that message when it doesn't mean anything is obnoxious, so don't do it.

Turing back to my example, we also have to question each detail. Presumably, my readers are familiar with MLP characters and races and so forth, so the fact I get all interested in what Twilight looks like is another possible message.

Maybe this is a story for non-pony fans. They'll automatically assume that characters are vaguely human-shaped, so maybe I want to get hooves and tails and unicorn magic in their minds to help their imaginations get started.

But even if that's the case (and doubly especially if not) my choice of topic is a message too: the perspective, Fluttershy, cares about what Twilight looks like. Maybe it's physical sympathy - Flutters would be happy to be reading, too. Maybe it's aesthetic appreciation. Maybe she's deep down wondering if Twilight can keep reading while somepony's cuddling the heck out of her. Maybe she's struck immobile with social anxiety.

And those are just the possibilities if I start from knowing Fluttershy's character. Readers will have all those and more floating around incoherently in their heads. My job is to draw order from chaos.

Thinking along those lines gives me a possible ending…

sketched quickly just to signpost where I'm going.

"And that," Twilight declared while throwing the last scrap of lumber across the door [to Fluttershy's room], "is that!" She rolled a towel and stuffed it into the jamb to keep the water out and, sure enough, that was that.

"Aren't you worried mu-muh- more of the cabin will collapse?"

Twilight shook her head. "This is the old part, built on solid rock. I don't know what we were thinking building the addition like that. Somepony could've got…"

Fluttershy didn't even realize she was shaking until Twilight wrapped her in a tight hug. They were both drenched, of course, so it was an icky, wet, and cold hug, but that meant maybe Twilight wouldn't notice Fluttershy was crying - she didn't know why. Fluttershy felt jittery and weak and Twilight felt strong and a maybe little warm until another drop of cold water dripped from either pony's mane.

"I messed up," Twilight said. "I was not expecting the storm to be this bad." She didn't say how either one of them could have joined the streak of wooden jetsam now spread down the face of the cliff. Fluttershy shook and didn't mention it either and after a moment Twilight pulled herself away.

"I should have put us in the cellar. It's not the nicest place, but I'm really starting to see the wisdom of living under solid stone." Twilight gathered their remaining possessions. "I'm sorry. I never should have dragged you out here. It's my research project after all, and-"

"Twilight," Fluttershy said. "Do you remember why the Princess sent you to Ponyville in the first place? Now I know I'm probably not the best friend to have in the middle of a hurricane, but I'm sure I'm at least as anxious as you are to see how the creatures here are dealing with it. And what help they need, of course. Thank you for inviting me on this adventure."

Twilight, their bags floating around her head, turned and looked into Fluttershy's eyes. "Oh," she said. "Right. No. Thank you."

"Just, no more adventure for the moment. If you can help it."

The door that Twilight pried open was dusty and stuck in its frame with disuse. With a glow conjured on the tip of her horn, she led them into the most comfortable cave Fluttershy had ever seen. Then again, she'd never been in a unicorn cave before. True, the floor was cold stone, but it was perfectly flat. Rugs and blankets and a fire built in the cellar's small hearth soon cured the chill.

The storm howled and boomed outside. The ponies sheltered below. Once she had the fire going, she turned to face Fluttershy. "So I don't know… what do you say when you nearly get a good friend killed?"

Fluttershy blinked. "I have no idea. Um… Thanks for not?" She smiled and changed the subject. "So, sorry your couch got wrecked. And I interrupted your reading. I hate when somepony does that."

"Oh," Twilight said. "Yeah… that. It's not a bad story, actually. Want to hear it?"

Twilight unzipped a bag, but Fluttershy was already digging through one of hers. "Thanks, but I brought my own if you don't mind."

Twilight took a place in front of the fire, sprawled out on her side and looking up into her book. Moments later, Fluttershy joined her and, just because it seemed the right thing to do, snuggled her side against Twilight's back. Twilight didn't complain, so she half-opened a wing across Twilight's ribs.

The storm outside screamed and somewhere not too far away a tree thudded against the ground. It was good just to be together. Back to side and silent they read.

So, yeah… Where was I?

Oh, yes:
> If you feel the need to do some straight exposition, at least precede it with. "Twilight looked at X. (Description of X.)" or something similar.

That or "something similar" I call a perspective tag. It reminds the reader whose perspective you're writing from. I do not think it excuses exposition. It's only necessary when the perspective matters and is confusing. (Perhaps a perspective switch? Or you need to revise…) Otherwise, just say what you need to say and skip what you don't.


>Otherwise, just say what you need to say and skip what you don't.
>Don't randomly mention scenery in the middle of conversation. The only way it should be mentioned is as part of relevant action, when it's relevant to the dialogue, or when the setting is active or changes in some way.
i.e. only mention scenery when it's relevant. Which means only when it adds something significant.

Update Azusa!fG2qnvpWXU 2947

File: 1356911322724.jpg (289.32 KB, 800x965, Applejack10185__twilight-spark…)

Fillies and Gentlecolts, I have had a breakthrough. This is how you avoid "Talking Head Syndrome."

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