I recently added a whole new section on writing tips and techniques to the Xeromag site, the largest new wing on the site in many years. One section of this new wing talks about how to write dialogue, and in one of those articles, I diss Star Trek: Voyager.
Yes, Star Trek in general has awful dialogue, and Voyager takes shitty dialogue to a whole new level. There, I said it. Sue me.
I got a question from a person who shall remain nameless (you know who you are) about what’s wrong with the dialogue in Voyager. And the thing is, Voyager dialogue is so shitty it’s kind of set the tone for the whole series, so if you simply point out an example of bad dialogue, people look at you blankly and say “what’s wrong with that?” It’s like the dialogue is such crap, we’ve lost our frame of reference because we don’t believe it’s even possible for the dialogue not to be crap.
“You are beautiful when you’re scanning.” That’s actually a line from Voyager.
There’s a specific and pernicious form of crap, though, that particularly sets my teeth on edge. I don’t mean just stilted, hamfisted dialogue, though of course Voyager has that in spades.
I don’t even mean “reroute the current flow through the turboencabulator to produce a transreversed pulse from the tachyon field emitter,” though Star Trek in general and Voyager in particular are legendary for their technobabble. (“Somehow, the energy emitted by the singularity shifted the chroniton particles in our hull into a high state of temporal polarization”? Seriously?)
What really gets up my nose is the “as you know” speech. This happens when character A tells character B something they both already know, but the viewer doesn’t. As you know, Captain, the Treaty of Blinkenmuunchen forbids the use of transreversed tachyon field pulses in an inhabited star sector…”
This…is not how people talk. And it’s a clumsy tool for exposition.
So: What would it sound like if scriptwriters for other TV shows wrote dialogue this way?
Columbo: Detective, we have a photo of the suspect from a traffic camera! As you know, sir, a traffic camera is an automated photographic recording device affixed to a stationary pole, usually at an intersection. It is activated by the operation of a remote automatic trigger that causes it to fix a photographic record at that instant. Unfortunately, it won’t tell us where the suspect went, as it records only a single frame.
Breaking Bad: We’ve found a new dealer for our drugs! As you know, the drugs we manufacture are considered contraband, which means their sale is prohibited by law. We have the facilities to manufacture them, but we require the assistance of others to carry them to distant places and make them available for sale. Since this process is a violation of Federal and state laws, we will have no recourse to the justice system if our dealer refuses to abide by the terms of our agreement, so we must screen our dealers carefully.
Game of Thrones: Chaos is a ladder. And as I’m sure you know, Varys, a ladder is a simple tool that can be used to climb from a low place to a high place. So what I’m saying is that I believe political chaos can be used to climb higher in the sociopolitical hierarchy. This is a linguistic construction known as a “metaphor.”
Sherlock: I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high functioning sociopath. Do your research. And as I’m sure you know, “research” is a systematic procedure or process by which one can check their ides against a rigorous body of source materials and conclusions.
NFL Sunday Night Football: Passing interference, 15-yard penalty. As I’m sure you know, a yard is a unit of measure, equivalent to three feet. This should not be confused with a yard that is an area of open ground in front of a house or other structure, commonly planted with grass, even though we are currently standing on an area of open ground covered with grass.
As you doubtless know by now, the “as you know” speech makes your characters look like idiots. That’s on top of being unnatural dialog. Don’t do it.