Mar 22 2012

A Dialogue Comparison of Twilight and Harry Potter

When people speak they have their own biased version of facts. This is based on their intelligence, experience, and beliefs. Dialog should not only tell readers the actions your characters take, but why they are making them.

 

Let’s see how effective, or ineffective dialog can be. I’m going to look at excerpts of dialog from Eclipse (pages 101-103) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (pages 213-215).

 

Eclipse Excerpt

“So what’s the story anyway? I mean, since the last time we… well, before, you know… What I’m asking is…  everything is back to the way it was before he left? You forgave him for all of that?”

“There was nothing to forgive.”

“I wish Sam had taken a picture when he found you that night in September. It would be exhibit A.”

“Nobody’s on trial.”

“Maybe somebody should be.”

“Not even you would blame him for leaving, if you knew the reason why.”

“Okay. Amaze me.”

“Edward left me last fall because he didn’t think I should be hanging out with vampires. He thought it would be healthier for me if he left.”

“He came back though didn’t he? Too bad he can’t stick to a decision.”

“If you remember, I went after him.”

 

This is Jacob talking to Bella about her vampire boyfriend Edward, who ditched her in a previous book. There is very little characterization here, Stephanie Meyer is really just using her dialog to remind readers of what happened earlier in the story.

 

Without the author’s attributions it’s hard to tell which character is male or female. For instance, if a guy is asked they when started their current job, they would probably guess, “About six months ago” rather than give a particular month. Men are not known for remembering dates, especially wedding anniversaries. Jacob’s line about finding Bella in September comes off a bit feminine.

 

But Meyer does a good job at making Jacob sound like a teenager. Like many high schoolers, Jacob lacks the vocabulary and confidence of an adult. This is apparent in the first line when he asks about the status of Bella and Edward. What Jacob is really asking is, “Can we date each other yet?” but he is unable to express himself.

 

What Jacob doesn’t sound like is an imposing seven-foot tall guy that turns into a gigantic wolf when he gets pissed off! Physically, Jake is not a guy to mess with and Edward doesn’t scare him. His gripe with Edward is legitimate. Not only does he want Bella for himself, but Edward is a vampire and there is a real danger of him killing her. He’s the guy who was there when Bella was left heartbroken. Instead of dialog that shows this kid’s physical strength, and his justified anger, Meyer has him complaining about Edward’s indecisiveness?

 

For her part if Bella doesn’t set Jacob’s expectations straight, she is being a merciless tease. She is probably tired of Jacob hopelessly pining after her and calling Edward an abusive jerk. She even has a good defense here, Edward left because he agreed with Jacob! The only reason they are together now is because Bella went after him. What does Bella actually say?

 

“Edward left me last September because he didn’t think I should be hanging out with vampires.”

 

Way to stand up for your man, Bella.

 

Now let’s look at Harry Potter.

 

“Harry, you – you look terrible.”

“Where is everyone?”

“Gone! It’s the first day of the holidays, remember? It’s nearly lunchtime; I was going to come and wake you up in a minute.”

“You really don’t look well, you know,”

“I’m fine.”

“Harry, listen, you must really be upset about what we heard yesterday. But the thing is, you mustn’t go doing anything stupid.”

“Like what?”

“Like trying to go after Sirius Black.”

“You won’t, will you, Harry?”

“Because Black’s not worth dying for.”

“D’you know what I see and hear every time a Dementor gets too near me? I can hear my mum screaming like that, just about to be killed, you wouldn’t forget it in a hurry. And if you found out someone who was supposed to be a friend of hers betrayed her and sent Voldemort after her.–”

“There’s nothing you can do! The Dementors will catch Black and he’ll go back to Azkaban and – serve him right!”

“You heard what Fudge said. Black isn’t affected by Azkaban like normal people are. It’s not a punishment for him like it is for the others.”

“So what are you saying? You want to – to kill Black or something?”

“Don’t be silly, Harry doesn’t want to kill anyone , do you, Harry?”

 

Harry is being consoled by his two friends, Ron and Hermione. They have just learned that the man whose betrayal killed Harrys parents, has escaped prison. With just the dialog shown here, Rowling gives you a clear picture of what time of the day it is, where they are, and what has happened recently. With little effort you can probably tell which lines belong to whom.

 

When Edward abandoned her in New Moon, Bella is devastated. She begins to have hallucinations of him when put in danger. She does increasingly dangerous stunts as a way to see Edward. Bella even attempts suicide. With that in mind her defense of Edward in Eclipse is very matter-of-fact.

 

In the Azkaban scene, Harry isn’t just talking about the past; he is showing you how he feels about it. Cleary this is a powerful memory that defines Potter as a person. Sirius Black has taken everything from him, and if he ever gets his hands on that traitor, someone better hold him back!

 

Hermione advises Harry not to act on his anger. She is caring and practical, but naive. Ron is also concerned with Harry’s judgment, but he is more like minded. He is a good and loyal friend who understands Harry’s desire to fight. But this isn’t Draco Malfoy they are dealing with. Ron knows that Harry is no match for Sirius Black, and is trying to talk him out of a confrontation that might kill him.

 

In both Eclipse and The Prisoner of Azkaban, the characters are talking about events that happened a long time ago. It’s not that Meyer’s characters are boring; they just don’t say anything that moves the plot along. The dialog in Eclipse serves only an expository function. We’re a hundred pages into the book–we know this already!

 

The dialog in Potter is a reaction to, rather than a reminder of the past. Harry is closer than he ever has been to avenging his parents and bringing closure to his personal demons.  Will they go after the mass murderer Sirius Black? Will they take the road of caution? Is Harry ready for all of this? What will happen next?

 

Lauren Sinclair is the comic writer/artist behind the web comic Unlikely Savior Chyler. See his most recent writing work here.

16 responses so far

16 Responses to “A Dialogue Comparison of Twilight and Harry Potter”

  1. Chihuahua0on 22 Mar 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Interesting post on dialogue. Thinking about it, Harry Potter’s dialogue does have a little more…life to it. The circumstances in Eclipse seem a little more vague.

    Hmm…I don’t have much to say, sadly.

  2. steton 22 Mar 2012 at 3:20 pm

    The Eclipse dialogue is bad, but I’m not sure the Harry dialogue is much better.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AsYouKnow

    “It’s the first day of the holidays, remember?” I never read this far into HP, so maybe he’s undergone some sort of brainscrambler spell. Otherwise, that qualifies as an ‘As you know, Bob.’

    In fact, most of that dialogue, to my HP-ignorant eyes, does. As you know, Bob, you must really be upset about that upsetting stuff. But as you know, it’s risky to go after Black. But as you know, because Fudge told you, Black isn’t affected by Ashkoshb’gosh.

  3. Milanon 22 Mar 2012 at 9:11 pm

    I won’t ever accuse my wife of nagging again. She’s simply a recap caption in some silly comic book! 🙂

    Recapping (nagging) could be a personality trait that also assists the author. Although in the HP case above, I think quite a bit of the exposition is brief enough to help the reader with a less than typographic memory.

    “Harry, listen, you must really be upset about what we heard yesterday.”

    It could be simply, “Harry, listen, you must really be upset.” An understanding tone. We perhaps know the rest.

    But the context could be used because there is more than one thing on Harry’s mind. An exposition may instead give a character’s own take on events, not the whole story, maybe even wrong. For the situation described, perhaps Ron and Hermione sense that sticking to facts may override Harry’s emotions.

    It’s a nice comparison. Having not read Twilight I can’t be sure the passage chosen is representative, but I’d trust Lauren to at least do her best.

  4. Carl Shinyamaon 24 Mar 2012 at 10:38 am

    I don’t have anything to add except that my opinion of Stephanie Meyers’ storytelling ability could not be further from my opinion of J.K. Rowling’s storytelling ability: I consider J.K. Rowling to be a master storyteller.

  5. B. McKenzieon 24 Mar 2012 at 10:51 am

    Even 50 years from now, I’m pretty confident Harry Potter will be a classic with millions of readers. Twilight is this era’s disco–if our descendants have heard of it in 2060, they’ll make fun of us for it. And I hope they think it’s as creepy and backwards as, say, Baby It’s Cold Outside (i.e. the Christmas Date-Rape Song).


    I find Twilight creepier than Baby, It’s Cold Outside. First, the printed score of Baby, It’s Cold Outside names the two singers as “Wolf” and “Mouse,” which suggests that the relationship is meant to seem abusive. In contrast, Stephenie Meyer is totally unaware of Cullen’s creepiness and Bella’s sickly dependence/clinginess. (QUESTION FROM NEWSWEEK: “Edward is so perfect—you’ve ruined regular men for a lot of teens. Do you feel bad?” ANSWER FROM MEYER: “Oh, a little bit, I guess. I just wanted to write for myself, a fantasy. And that’s what Edward is. But it could be a good thing, too. There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations, right?“)

    If anybody HOPES to have somebody like Edward Cullen in her life, I pray that she gets professional counseling to avert what would otherwise probably be a terrible cycle of abuse, psychological trauma, and the crippling belief that this abusive guy is the best she can hope for and/or that she deserves it.

  6. Carl Shinyamaon 25 Mar 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Hey, B. Mac, may I have a review forum?

    I’d love to see the feedback on my comic book, “The Aloha Girl” (currently in development).

    Thanks!

  7. ekimmakon 25 Mar 2012 at 3:38 pm

    So… you’re saying that vampires are deader than disco?

  8. B. Macon 25 Mar 2012 at 4:24 pm

    “You’re saying that vampires are deader than disco?” I think Twilight-style vampires are on the way out. Vampires in general, no. If I could offer an analogy, a lot of superhero trends have changed since the late 1980s/1990s, but we still have superheroes.

  9. B. McKenzieon 25 Mar 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Carl, I’ve set it up here.

  10. ekimmakon 25 Mar 2012 at 5:06 pm

    What, no cascade of laughter at my joke?

  11. B. McKenzieon 25 Mar 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Speaking of vampires being deader than disco, earlier today I saw a trailer for Dark Shadows, a movie that’s about a vampire being awakened in the 1970s.

  12. crescon 25 Mar 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I find Twililght more tolerable if I think of the naming convention for the Vampires as “for lack of a better term.”

    Really they are humanoid reptiles like the Naga with some extra vampire traits.

    A wonderful alternative for a Vampire story is “Let the Right One in”

    (click my name and you’ll learn a secret…)

  13. B. McKenzieon 26 Mar 2012 at 1:45 am

    “I find Twilight more tolerable if I think of the naming convention for the Vampires as ‘for lack of a better term.'” I agree that a lot of the most visceral hatred for Twilight comes from its treating vampires in an (ahem) less-than-serious light. In particular, sparkling in the sunlight is so preposterously un-badass that it sounds like something out of My Little Pony.

    The closest superhero analogue I can think of is that it was spectacularly unwise for Joel Schumacher to try sexualizing Batman in Batman & Robin (e.g. the nipples on his suit and the closeups on his codpiece). I’m pretty sure that’s what made the difference between a movie that would have been pretty bad and one that makes me feel like I’ve been mentally violated.

    I suspect that Schumacher would not have gotten nearly as much heat as he did if he had been working with his own original character rather than misappropriating a highly popular character. Twilight probably would have gotten less hate if it had made up its own fantasy species instead of vampires. The characterization would still have been weak and the relationship would still have been creepy, but I doubt it’d be nearly as emotional. (I hope I’m wrong–really, the author’s bizarre take on the abusive Edward-Bella relationship is much more outrageous, but I think the sparkly vampires are more likely to cause outrage because you don’t need to know anything else about the plot to know that **** is ****ed up).

  14. crescon 26 Mar 2012 at 8:43 am

    “I suspect that Schumacher would not have gotten nearly as much heat as he did if he had been working with his own original character rather than misappropriating a highly popular character. Twilight probably would have gotten less hate if it had made up its own fantasy species instead of vampires.”

    Well said, the Vampire issue is just one of the problems that make Twilight terrible. The natives for instance are a very simple characiture of what a white mormon woman thinks American Indians are like.

    As a result of invasion and what the territory they’ve lost many tribes have lost their way of life. They haven’t been permitted to hunt, and can’t fish because of dams that have been built on rivers they used. Did you know that Forks, Washington is named for it’s three river system and fishing is a signifigant industry for the natives there? It took me one google search to discover that, I don’t recall it being mentioned once in the movies.

  15. Gogopowon 07 May 2012 at 8:16 pm

    @cresc – I’m a white mormon woman and I don’t think that’s what native Americans look like. Even though she is Mormon, her book is very unmormon. I know she didn’t get a lot of things right in that story. The whole sparkly vampire thing…. *twitch*

  16. B. McKenzieon 08 May 2012 at 2:00 am

    “I don’t think that’s what native Americans look like.” If Edward Cullen is any indication, she doesn’t know what Caucasians look like, either. 😉

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