Oblique Dialogue

Writing dialogue can be a lot of fun but it can also be tricky. Dialogue is not the same as conversation. It is not question/answer format.

Dialogue should lead to questions. It should entice the reader to turn the page. It should move the plot forward.

I've never heard dialogue called oblique before chapter eleven in Stein on Writing. According to Stein, this type of dialogue is indirect.

His example of oblique dialogue:

SHE: Hi, how are you?
HE: Oh, I didn't see you.

The man doesn't answer the question. He circles around it and says something else. That's oblique.

Have you ever heard of oblique dialogue? Or maybe you've heard it called indirect? For an exercise, here's some dialogue. Can you turn it into something oblique?

HE: Heard you had a party last night.
SHE: Yep.


Tamika: said…
This was my first book on craft! Love it. The examples infused in each chapter really help the information stick.
This comment has been removed by the author.
I read this too. So, yes, I do try and incorporate it.

I meant to add to that:
She: Not going there today.

That I took oblique as anything that doesn't end the topic short really, something that drives on further conversation, whether it be a new topic or a different spin to take. Still, maybe this doesn't work.
Had never heard of it before, but the concept makes great sense!

She: What have you gotten yourself into lately?

Jessica Nelson said…
Tamika, I agree. I love that he lists examples from various works so I can really see what he means.

Hey Eileen, love your sentence! LOL I can just here the attitude. He's digging for info and she cuts him offe. Heh. Nice example!

Hi Larie! So she turned it around on him. LOL Great way to change it up.
Jennifer Shirk said…
Oooh, I never read this book. Sounds good because I LOVE LOVE LOVE to write dialogue. :)

How about...

HE: Heard you had a party last night.
SHE: Oh? And what else did you hear?
I've never heard of this before! Do you think it is more avoidance or more of the digging deeper?

She: Oh, excuse me a moment. My bum is vibrating and I probably should see who's calling.

lol...how's that for avoidance?

She: I heard you had your own party with a certain red head.

So is that continuing the story a bit further?

Very interesting today, Jessica!
Jessica Nelson said…
Hahaa! I love both your examples. Too funny! I think in a sense this kind of writing could be avoidance. Kind of a circular thing. I'm not sure. I just thought it was pretty smart.
Thanks for playing, Sherrinda!
Jody Hedlund said…
I haven't heard it called oblique--thanks for sharing that! I think I use this technique from time to time in interactions between my hero and heroine.
Linda Kage said…
Hey, I've heard something like this before...about never directly answering a question, or even answering a question with another question when writing dialogue. I had no idea it was called oblique though. Thank you for sharing.

Learn something new every day!
Unknown said…
Awesome post!

HE: Heard you had a party last night.
SHE: Oh I'm sorry. Did I forget to invite you?
Arlee Bird said…
HE: Heard you had a party last night.
SHE: I guess I'm going to go see "Twilight" next week end.
Jessie Oliveros said…
I've used this type of dialogue in my writing. Is Stein saying it is a good thing or a bad thing...or a good thing in moderation?
Sarah Forgrave said…
I've never heard this term, but Stein on Writing is on my bookshelf in the to-be-read pile.

The term oblique makes me think more of muscles instead of dialogue. :-) In fact, that leads to a good response to your exercise.

SHE: I'm going to lift weights tomorrow. Wanna join me?
Angie Muresan said…
Thanks for this, I haven't heard of it either. But I like it. Aren't most conversations in life oblique?

She: I should introduce you to my new boyfriend.


She: Oh there he is. Gotta go.
Erica Vetsch said…
Dialogue is something I'm working on. I don't feel as if it is a real strength of mine. Incoporating more oblique dialogue would sure spice it up.

Thanks, girl!
Tana said…
My characters never cease to amaze me in their differing styles of speech. I really let them take the reins =)
Patti said…
Never heard of the book, sounds like one I need to add to my ever growing collection.
Nancy said…
How about - she: "Your ears must be very good."

I love to do dialogue. I always thought I should have tried plays. There's lots to say there.
Kathy said…
How about:

She: Have you done something different with your hair?
Jessica Nelson said…
You guys are awesome! I had some family stuff come up so I might miss some of your posts. Will try to catch up later! Thank you for your comments, and for playing along! :-)
What surprises me about stuff, even when I'm familiar with its existence, is that it all has specific terms! And I've learned so many terms from you. :) Thanks, Jessica.
Oblique dialogue is a lot of fun! I don't do it as much as I'd like to, but I do enjoy it.

He: your cat is blue.

Not really--I just wanted to write that! Ha!
Mary E Campbell said…
Dialogue is not my strength - I appreciate any advice I can get.
Deb Shucka said…
The term is new to me, but not the conversational technique. It's fun reading all the new dialogue here. :-)
anita said…
I need to read this book!! I've heard it called indirect, but I LOVE the word oblique. :-)

Okay, so here's my attempt at making your example oblique...

HE: Heard you had a party last night.
SHE: Did you know you have spinach in your teeth?

Snort! Fun post, Jessie. ;-P
Tabitha Bird said…
HE: heard you had a party last night.
SHE: depends what you mean by party...

fun post :)
Hi Jess -

While I recognize the dialogue, I didn't know what it was called. Thanks for teaching me a new term.

HE: heard you had a party last night.

SHE: So, how's your job going?

Did I get the idea?

Susan :)
Kara said…
In my world it's called "lawyer talk" never answer a direct question or answer a question with a question, lol.
Love the exercise:
She said: Really? I tend to not believe everything I hear, how about you?
Katie Ganshert said…
Yes, I've heard of this. It's a great way to make our writing less predictable.

Good stuff!
colbymarshall said…
Never heard of this before- thanks for the example! Like your blog layout, btw!
Debra E. Marvin said…
He: Heard you had a party last night.
She: Heard you and Jessica broke up.
Jessie: I'd never heard of this before, but I and my hus do it ALL the time.

Me: Heard you had a party last night.
He: I let the cat in, so you didn't have to. Or...

Me: What time do we need to leave Thursday?
He: Hmm, I need to put gas in the car and check the air in the tires...
Terri Tiffany said…
I'm like Janna-- I know that it is done but never heard a term for it!
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Jeanette! I think that's just tuning eachother out. *snickering*

Very funny Debra!! Heh.

Thanks Colby. :-)
I used to be terrified of dialogue, and now people say that's one of my strong points. Practice practice - but mainly, I cut cut cut cut dialogue - I try to make it as short and snappy as possible, and if it is a bit longer, I break it up...

Unknown said…
SHE: "Since when did you start shaving your head?"

I dunno. I've been writing all day. That was my best stab at it. lol.
Patti Lacy said…
Great comments. Seems like obliquity creeps in when I delete huge chunks and still hang on to those "cutisms" that I should've cut in the first place.

Great blog!

Patti Lacy
Karen Hossink said…
Now I know what to call it! Thank you Jessica - for giving me a name for many of my interactions with my son. The ones where I ask where he's going, what he and his friends are going to do, if he has homework, what he learned in school that day...Yeah, those episodes in which he circles around my question and says something else.
All this time we've been having oblique dialog, and I didn't even know it.
You're brilliant! *grin*
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Karen!!! YOu're too funny. :-)

Thank you for stopping by, Patti!

Good for you, Karen. I need to be writing...
Jessica Nelson said…
Kathryn, I agree. Short and snappy is great. Sometimes there's a place for longer dialogue...but mostly I try to break mine up too. :-)
Pen Pen said…
Whoa! I haven't heard of that either! ...maybe I should read the Stein book! Those books on writing are probably some of the most helpful things I read in my life! :)

Okay-I'm gonna try to make it oblique! Don't fail me if...fail. :)

HE: Heard you had a party last night.
SHE: You talked to Micah, didn't you?

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