Can Drunks Have Serious Conversations?

Lafayette

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Recently, I tried writing a scene where two drunks are having a serious conversation regarding events where one is not happy about. I was told by most of the critiquers (except for one) that this was not believable.

So, what are your opinions? I need some serious feedback so I can move on writing my story.
 
Did they specify why they thought this was not believable?

Yes, you can have very serious discussions when drunk. (In fact some people, unfortunately, can only talk about the most serious things effecting them when drunk, because when sober they may feel socially constrained or too embarrassed to open up and discuss problems.)
 
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It would depend on the extent of their inebriation. Enough to loosen their tongues and lift their inhibitions, but not enough to loose control of their thinking processes. You can have the most deep conversation of your entire life while (milldy) drunk.
 
Did they specify why they didn't think this was not believable?

Yes, you can have very serious discussions when drunk. (In fact some people, unfortunately, can only talk about the most serious things effecting them when drunk, because when sober they may feel socially constrained or too embarrassed to open up and discuss problems.)
Now that you mentioned it that is true.

The critique in question is here: Is This Better?

I welcome the feedback good or bad.
 
It would depend on the extent of their inebriation. Enough to loosen their tongues and lift their inhibitions, but not enough to loose control of their thinking processes. You can have the most deep conversation of your entire life while (milldy) drunk.
I think the problem may have been they were sloppy drunk, but I don't recall any of them talking about degrees of intoxication. If they did I missed it.
 
I think the problem is that "drunk" likely means different things to different people. There is a continuum of drunkenness from more than a bit tipsy, through singing loudly while standing on tabletops, through puking up all over the next person, all the way to falling down into a near-coma, and that doesn't necessarily reflect how much a person has actually drunk, since everyone reacts to alcohol in a different way, depending on age, sex, size, what else has been ingested, and habituation.

"Serious conversation" also can mean very different things. Speaking intelligently and rationally on scientific matters, say, is only likely to happen in the very early stages of tipsiness. Talking in a general way about family matters, or people one hates -- ie things that are commonplace in one's conversation -- would still be possible further on in the process. But alcohol leads to poor concentration and inferior social and critical judgement, all of which are necessary to hold a conversation which is worth the name -- basically, it's harder to think clearly, and then express those thoughts clearly.


Perhaps the question you should be asking yourself is why you're writing people who are drunk and having a conversation. Granted it might show characterisation, but if you're having this difficulty over one scene, are you likely to want to continue to show them as drunks? Meanwhile, does their drunkeness further the plot in any way? Is the conversation one that's important for the reader? Could you show the conversation separately from the drunkeness?
 
Perhaps the question you should be asking yourself is why you're writing people who are drunk and having a conversation. Granted it might show characterisation, but if you're having this difficulty over one scene, are you likely to want to continue to show them as drunks?

This is what I've been wondering. Why do they have to be drunk at all? I've been wondering why two people would be having this high-level conversation in front of some serious fantasy tech whilst completely wrecked. I could imagine a couple of hired thugs getting so drunk that they slurred their words, but I find it hard to imagine that a fairly high-level villain (ie one who has to be cunning) would last very long in the job if they took important decisions whilst fully drunk.

They don't have to be entirely sober, either: they could be having a couple of pints in a pub, or slightly tipsy after a large meal, or one of them could be the sort of continual low-level drinker who doesn't realise that he has a problem.
 
I think the problem is that "drunk" likely means different things to different people. There is a continuum of drunkenness from more than a bit tipsy, through singing loudly while standing on tabletops, through puking up all over the next person, all the way to falling down into a near-coma, and that doesn't necessarily reflect how much a person has actually drunk, since everyone reacts to alcohol in a different way, depending on age, sex, size, what else has been ingested, and habituation.
Could you show the conversation separately from the drunkeness?
I could, but that would be boring. It would lack some of the dramatic impact that the two would experience individually.
 
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There are many types and levels of "drunk" (It is a strange drug, its effects can be very different for different people - science has shown that its effects are culturally transmitted too. i.e. if you are brought up to believe that alcohol makes people angry and violent, you are more likely to be angry and violent when drunk. If you are brought up to believe that alcohol makes people mellow and sleepy, you are more likely to be mellow and sleepy... Weird that one little molecule can work up such a range of different effects.)

Habitual drinkers can drink a lot of stuff, work up a "profound altered mind state" and still say complex, interesting and very coherent things....but probably unlikely to remember anything the next day! Others might even think better with a small degree of alcohol, if it helps them relax and remove negative mind states that were impacting them sober. Others can be pretty uncoherent, forgetful and chaotic. As I said above, some people may be largely 'repressed' therefore use alcohol to talk about taboo things or issues that they wouldn't normally dare tell anyone.

There's lots of ways you could go with this.

Anyway, I won't go into nit-picking, tis not my style, I much prefer to read complete stories, as small snippets need loads of context.

So I haven't got too much of problem with the piece as it stands, but I'd ask the question, why do you want to portray them discussing these issues when drunk? Is it for comedic effect? Are they drinking all the time, and this is integral to their characters? Is it part of the plot? I could imagine one of these characters having a raging hangover afterwards impacting the next part of the story, for example. Why are both the 'lord' and the servant drunk? Do they have this sort of easy relationship when sober?

If you are comfortable where this piece stands with regards to the rest of your story, I wouldn't worry too much, but just move on and keep on writing.
 
In Vino Veritas is a section of Kierkregard's Stages on Life's Way. In this story, four men get drunk and once there, each gives a soliloquy on romantic love.
There conversation is very serious.
 
I could, but that would be boring. It would lack some of the dramatic impact that the two would experience individually.
Um... well, I can only speak for myself, but frankly I found nothing in either version to make me think it was more dramatic as written than it would be if you gave over the attempt to make them sound drunk. On the contrary, if these are meant to be the antagonists, to my mind it makes them look weak, and if they're the protagonists it makes them look contemptible. Neither, I would suggest, is helpful to the story.

If you think a non-drunk conversation is boring, then it's up to you to make it un-boring by the use of language and dialogue, and by allowing the characters to act according to their natures, rather than by manipulating them. The hoverball can still be broken, if that is what you think is dramatic -- though in my view it doesn't add to drama where it comes, right at the beginning, and should be something you work up to -- if, for instance, one of them is angry or frustrated or just likes breaking things.
 
I've known people with very high salaried jobs making important decisions while drinking a bottle of whisky every day.

Whilst so drunk at work that they throw bottles and have trouble speaking? I doubt a high-ranking fantasy villain would last long in that state, given the dog-eat-dog nature of fantasy villainy. They'd be like the gangster who gets high too much, becomes unreliable and gets removed by someone more deadly.

On the contrary, if these are meant to be the antagonists, to my mind it makes them look weak, and if they're the protagonists it makes them look contemptible.

I agree. Big-time drunkenness, at least in fiction, tends to suggest something comical, squalid or pitiful, and not effective.
 
I've known people with very high salaried jobs making important decisions while drinking a bottle of whisky every day.
High functioning alcoholics certainly can work while drinking huge amounts, but it's perhaps arguable as to whether they are actually drunk at the time -- they'd be over the drink-drive limits, which can be quantified, but not exhibiting other signs of drunkeness. (Though I accept that's probably a "No True Scotsman" kind of argument.)

In any event it doesn't help Lafayette, since he's wanting the characters to be obviously drunk, so the alcohol is affecting them in their speech, which would inevitably mean it must be also affecting them in their powers of concentration and rationality.
 
The scene is between three people, one in charge. The one in charge could be a hair less drunk and propose his questions with a little momentary soberness. The minions could show greater inebriation in their stumbling attempt to answer those questions.

The problem, @Lafayette, is that you have yet to even try to write the scene with them sounding drunk, and now you're eliciting opinions about drunkeness. Why don't you just try writing drunk dialogue before you declare it a pointless impossibility based on popular opinion?

I have read versions of this kind of scene in at least two Iain Banks books - a man who knew about Scotch. He did it; you can do it.
 
What does it matter if they can, or can’t? Unless you’re working in a clinical trial or sone kind of thesis, it’s irrelevant.

You as the author have to make it believable that they can. Knowing empirically isn’t going to help you write.

The characters must believe they can have a conversation when drunk, otherwise why would they attempt it?
 
The problem, @Lafayette, is that you have yet to even try to write the scene with them sounding drunk, and now you're eliciting opinions about drunkeness. Why don't you just try writing drunk dialogue before you declare it a pointless impossibility based on popular opinion?
Yes, I have written a drunk scene and here it is: Do These Characters Appear Drunk?
 
The characters must believe they can have a conversation when drunk, otherwise why would they attempt it?
Because they're drunk! We're in the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima territory here.**


I've been thinking further about this issue, Lafayette. Do you know why these people are drinking? Is it habitual? Was it a party and in the midst of it something else happened and the hoverball appeared? Are they drinking because their plans have gone wrong? Each of these scenarios is likely to lead to different ways they react both to the drink and what each says to the other. As I said above, the scene has to derive from their characters and conduct, so if you work that out, it might help you work out the scene itself.



** just in case the anecdote is not well known, it's no slur upon any prelate from Peru, but an undoubtedly apocryphal story about George Brown, the British politician, who was said to have approached a tall figure dressed in red at an official reception whom he asked for a dance. It was refused on three grounds: "You are drunk. The band is in fact playing the Peruvian national anthem. And I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima."
 

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