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Trick Dialogue

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A subversion of the most fundamental aspect of Dialogue: whether a character is talking to someone else or not.

Commonly, a character will appear to be making a brave confession, and then be revealed to have just been practicing before a mirror. Or, he will seem to be explaining his life to someone, and then be shown to be talking to a gravestone.

Alternatively, a character will clearly be talking to himself, but we find out that someone just happened to overhear. (Bonus points if it was the intended recipient of a difficult request.) This can follow on the first kind for a Double Subversion of dialogue.

Visual media typically use a Reveal Shot, often a Closeup on Head, to execute Trick Dialogue. Compare Fourth Wall Psych (where the character appears to be speaking to the audience but is actually talking to another person). See also Not so Dire. Overlaps with Bait-and-Switch.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ranma ˝:
    • Ryōga Hibiki does this all the time, pretending that various random objects are Akane in order to practice asking her out and/or confessing his love for her. He doesn't seem to mind (or notice) the way people stare.
    • Ranma himself also does this from time to time, often to indulge his ego as he imagines the other party's response. Invariably, Akane is always there to catch the tail-end of it, making him backpedal and either deny everything, or try (and fail, badly) to reuse the dialogue.
  • The Negima! Magister Negi Magi chapter where Nodoka confesses her feeling to Negi began with this. Close-up of Negi seemingly asking what she wants. Close-up of Nodoka requesting him to spend the free activity day together with her. Wide-area shot showing Nodoka practicing in front of a Negi bobble-head in her room.
  • In Naruto, when Jiraiya is dying it appears as if what he's saying about his life just being a series of failures is an Inner Monologue, but we then see someone else respond revealing it was actually him talking to someone (Minato) in a flashback.

    Comic Books 
  • Usagi Yojimbo:
    • A rather memorable variant happens in one comic: in trying to get out of the rain, Usagi comes across the swordswoman Inazuma telling her life's story to some of her friends. By the time she is finished, the rain has let up, so Inazuma bids them farewell and heads out. Usagi makes an aside about the story to one of the "friends"... only to discover that all four of them are dead — bounty hunters who had been trying unsuccessfully to kill Inazuma.
    • Used elsewhere in Usagi Yojimbo when Usagi goes to return a small trinket to a fellow member of Lord Mifune's army. The trinket is a good-luck charm; Usagi tells the man he is sorry he was unable to return it previously, then leaves it on the top of the man's gravestone and walks away.
  • A frequent source of comedy in Dork Tower.
    • One story begins with Gilly and Matt preparing for a blind date. We then see them at a table talking, and seeing how they share lots of common interests and hobbies. The final panel shows that they are actually sitting at two different tables, each talking to someone else who think their hobbies are weird.
    • Inverted in another story, where Matt starts off talking to Ken about how Gilly is his ideal girl, while Walden is talking to a stranger about finding a Nice Guy for Gilly. After a page and a half, it's revealed that Matt and Walden were talking to each other, not realizing that they're both referring to the same Perky Goth (or how Matt would be perfect for her).
  • At the end of the Firefly comic Those Left Behind, Mal misses his chance to explain his feelings to Inara as she's leaving, and ends up saying everything he meant to say to the empty galley that night.
  • Bron does this in Scion when it looks like he's Breaking the Fourth Wall to make a soliloquy, but he's actually talking to his father's corpse, after Bron killed him and became king.
  • Archie: In this comic, it looks as if Archie is talking with Veronica's father, but as it turns out, he is actually rehearsing with a tape recorder — [1]

    Films — Animation 
  • Cinderella has a scene where Grand Duke practices breaking it to the short-tempered King that Cinderella has left the ball.
    Duke: Your majesty, I see no point in beating about the bush. I regret to inform you, sire, that the young lady has disappeared, leaving behind only this glass slipper.
    (widen to reveal he's talking to a chair outside the King's bedroom)
    Duke: Yes, I'll do it! (prepares to knock) Oh, no. I just can't...
  • Oliver & Company features a scene in which Fagin is confidently describing his ransom plot... to Dodger. When he actually goes to Sykes's office, he barely manages to stammer it out.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The movie Cool Runnings uses this; Junior appears to be talking to his dad about his career, but it turns out he's just practicing. On the dog. When his dad does turn up, he gets completely thrown.
  • In Batman (1989), Bruce Wayne mouths "I'm Batman. I'm Batman" with a view to confessing to Vicki Vale, and an almost Ironic Echo of his first line of the movie, spoken to menace a Gotham thug.
  • In Stardust, Tristan gets fired from his job and is working himself up to confess to his father, so he practices by telling the mirror, only for his father to come in. His father didn't mind anyway.
  • Much of The Sixth Sense turns out to be the "character talks to someone and doesn't realize they can't hear him" variety of this.
  • The Cornetto Trilogy:
    • Near the beginning of Shaun of the Dead, Shaun and Liz have a frank discussion about Shaun's unbearable roommate, who, as it turns out, is cheerfully standing within earshot. They go on to discuss Liz's friends, who are then revealed to be sitting right next to them. ("No offense!").
    • Done in reverse at the end of Hot Fuzz: It seems that Nick is talking to Danny's grave (the last scene had the police office blow up) but he's actually talking to Danny's mother's grave, with Danny right behind him. Or maybe it's the other way around, it's been a while...
    • Reversed at the beginning of The World's End, Gary King appears to be narrating his flashback to the audience, but it turns out to be a confession at an AA meeting.
  • In Reservation Road, Dwight appears to be telling someone what he had done, but then the camera pans to show that he's recording a message for his son on a video camera.
  • After his wife's kidnapping, (which he arranged himself), Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo sounds like he's desperately trying to explain to his father-in-law that his wife has been kidnapped, but stumbling over his words. It turns out he was just trying to find the right way to sound worried before he actually picked up the phone.

  • In the very first Aubrey-Maturin book, Aubrey tells all his troubles to his particular friend... who hasn't returned to the ship yet.
  • Underground: At the beginning of chapter 5, Robyn is telling Andrew about the tournament coming up and Swanson's hold over her, only for her cat, Tiny, to interrupt the conversation by jumping off her lap. Shortly after, its revealed she was talking to the cat as a way of practicing for telling Andrew.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Carter's rant about reproductive organs in the episode "Moebius, Part I". She's making a rant that includes a line from the pilot of the show, and afterwards it's revealed that she's rehearsing something she'd like to say to her boss, but never works up the nerve. This was used partly to differentiate this version of Samantha Carter with the previous one, who had no problem uttering the same line during a briefing in the series' first episode, and partly as an in-joke, because that line was pretty well-recognized as a clunker.
    • Another episode had an interesting twist. Daniel, who is out of phase (read: invisible), is talking to his grandfather, Nick. Nick starts talking back, thinking that Daniel is a hallucination. Daniel continues replying, thinking that his grandpa is just thinking out loud. Eventually, it turns out that Nick can see Daniel. Yes, they managed to have a conversation without realizing it.
  • An episode of House featured Allison Cameron making a Freudian slip-up in front of a documentary crew by saying "I love House!" When next we see her, she's frantically trying to find some way of qualifying that statement without making matters worse and failing. On first reveal she is talking to a mirror; on second reveal, her current boyfriend is on the bench behind her looking put-upon for being forced to listen to this.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • This happens to Giles in "Some Assembly Required":
      Giles: W-w-w-what I'm proposing is, um... and I-I don't mean to appear indecorous, is, is, um, a, a-a-a social engagement, um, a, a, a, a-a date, if you're amenable. [to himself] You idiot!
      Buffy: Boy, I guess we never realized how much you liked that chair.
    • Done again in "Triangle" when a certain character we know and kind of love practices confessing his love to Buffy by talking to a mannequin wearing one of her sweaters and a blonde wig. He makes it about four sentences into the imagined conversation before it degenerates into mutual (half-imagined) verbal abuse, and he winds up beating it over the head with a box of chocolates.
    • Also done with Xander in the opening of the first season episode, "Prophecy Girl". Xander apparently asking Buffy out for a date is actually him talking to Willow, who is then revealed to be acting as a stand-in so Xander can rehearse his proposal to Buffy.
  • The Angel episode "Spin the Bottle" has Lorne telling the story of the episode to a theatre — that, at the end, is revealed to be empty.
  • In season 2 of Battlestar Galactica, politician-slash-beloved-terrorist Zarek talks in front of a mirror about the upcoming election in typical public speaking style. Then he turns, elaborating that he wants to run against the incumbent on a ticket with... current Vice-President Gaius Baltar.
  • The start of Spaced begins with Tim and Daisy apparently splitting up with each other. However, at the end of the scene, we see that they are in different locations, having completely different conversations. Tim is getting dumped by his girlfriend and Daisy is talking to a homeless man.
  • In the third season of Lost, Hurley gives a speech about how hard things have been on the island, and how sad everyone is. As we watch, the camera pans to reveal that he's talking to a grave marker. Libby's grave marker
  • Wolf from The 10th Kingdom appears to be confessing his love in a very heart-felt manner, unusual for him. We soon learn that he was reciting a speech from a book, trying to memorize it.
  • One episode of Scrubs was told largely by Dr Cox in flashback, against a neutral background, with the topic being his poor anger-management in dealing with the interns. From context, the obvious conclusion was that he was talking to his shrink. But at the end he says "Well, unfortunately the only way I know how to teach is through fear. And I tell you this because I know that this particular shortcoming will invariably affect your life" and the Reveal Shot shows that he's been talking to his pre-verbal son.
  • Dr Kovac on ER spent the entirety of one episode narrating his feelings as if he were talking with a psychiatrist, only to be revealed as talking to a prostitute at the end.
  • In one episode of Babylon 5, after a Centauri warship attacked the station and was destroyed, Sheridan is shown giving a speech that starts out as an apology before veering into a rant about how he's glad he blew the ship to hell because they were firing on civilians, including their own people. The reveal, of course, shows that he's only practicing. Due to circumstances in the next scene, he's unable to actually deliver the speech to the intended audience.
  • In one episode of Frasier, Frasier begins talking to someone about his feelings about Niles and Maris's divorce. As he's talking, that person walks away, so Frasier ends up talking to himself. By the end of his now monologue, he asks if the other person understands. That person has only that instant come back and gives an offhand 'Yeah' not having heard a word of Frasier's anguished speech. It happens once with his father in their apartment. He comes back after having gone to get a paper. It happens a second time in the coffee shop where Ros leaves him to talk to some friends, then comes back to his table.
  • Lois on Malcolm in the Middle appears to be giving her boys a heartfelt speech about how she just wants to know who set the dress on fire, sounding as desperate and kind as she can. The camera cuts back to show her talking to a mirror and then saying, "Nah, they'll never buy it."
  • An episode of Due South had Fraser and Ray get into an argument early on. Later, we see them both talking about their feelings, about how they manage to just frustrate each other, and it gradually becomes clear that they're both talking to themselves, in their own apartments.
  • Blackadder episode "Chains" contains a variant in which Blackadder appears to be savagely upbraiding the shocked Queen and Melchett, until the reveal:
    Blackadder: Get out, get out libidinous swine! And take that horse-slut painted strumpet with you. May you both rot in the filth of your own fornication!
    Queen Elizabeth I: And what did you say to him?
    Blackadder: Say, Madam? I said nothing. I simply pulled up my tights and jumped out the privy window.
  • In One Tree Hill it looks like Anna Tagaro is talking to the mirror and practicing her speech about confessing to her parents that she's a lesbian, but it turns out her parents are also in the room and she really was coming out to them.

  • They Might Be Giants uses this in their song "Till My Head Falls Off":
    Hitting every pocket on my shirt, pants and overcoat
    And I'm hitting them again but I don't know where I put my notes
    Clearing my throat, and gripping the lectern I smile and face my audience
    Clearing his throat and smiling with his hands on the bathroom sink.
  • The "talking to a tombstone" trick is one of the most ubiquitous in Country Music, to the point that a savvy listener won't even realize that it's meant to be a Twist Ending. Well-done versions of this song are still haunting, often featuring a mournfully lingering One-Woman Wail at the end of at least one lyric.
  • Taylor Swift's music video for "I Bet You Think About Me" opens with Miles Teller delivering a speech that turns out to be performed in front of a mirror in a public bathroom.

  • The Goon Show has lots of this, mostly playing on the fact that the audience cannot see what is going on and so plays with lots of sound effects to make it sound like people are doing stuff when in fact they are not, as in this clip:
    Neddy: Eccles, get out!
    Eccles: Fine! Fine!
    [sound of door opening and closing]
    Eccles: They can kick me out, see if I care... see if I care. I don't care, nope, don't care at all...
    Neddy: Eccles, will you stop muttering and get out!!!

  • Subversion: Argentinian Comedic Group Les Luthiers has a whole sketch about a guy who declares to his love, talking to an empty chair. Since this is theater, and the whole group is male, no one is surprised about this fact and the spectators assume this is in fact the real thing. At the end it's revealed that he's actually practicing.

    Video Games 
  • The "Meet the Soldier" video for Team Fortress 2 has the eponymous soldier lecturing a platoon on his hilariously inept understanding of military history ("'If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight!' Sun Tzu said that, and I'd say he knows a little more about fighting than you do, pal, because he invented it!") The camera switches views at the end, revealing the "soldiers" to be a row of severed BLU Team heads on a fence.

    Visual Novels 
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney:
    • Two characters are shown facing each other and dialogue shows up in the text box. Because of what has gone on earlier in the game, it seems as though the speaker is one person, when it's actually the other. Although if you think about it, the facts don't quite match up, so it's possible to guess the identity of the real speaker.
    • In the same game, briefly, Ema imitates Kristoph Gavin, and the appropriate sprite appears for a moment.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: Recreation pulls this with Caboose and Donut. Donut stands behind Caboose while the latter seems to ask an A.I. unit if it "ever feels like you're being watched by someone." As the episode fades out, he adds "Donut, I'm asking you a question."

Clarissa, glaring at herself: We all know whose fault this is ...
  • Dominic Deegan:
    • Both kinds are used in one strip. Dominic's defensive justifications for his actions are revealed to have been aimed at his cat Spark instead of his girlfriend Luna. (Actually, the cat understood, but he just didn't care.) Also, Nimmel's Rousing Speech to himself in a mirror is revealed to have been overheard by Luna.
    • Both kinds were also used earlier, when Szark Sturtz poured his heart out to what was revealed to be a Dominic doll — and then Jayden revealed that she'd been standing nearby and heard the whole thing.
  • Used in Sabrina Online when Zig-Zag appears to be telling Sabrina how she really feels... only to finish with, "I also wonder how hard it would be to tell you this while you're awake."
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Double example n this strip: what appears to be Elan and Haley discussing their newfound love for one another is actually two unrelated monologues, Elan's towards his hand-puppet Banjo the clown (who he also worships as a god, incidentally), and Haley's towards her sack of gold coins.
    • This strip is a bit of a twist since Roy is actually talking to the person he means to address and that person is actually hearing it, but it still fits since the reader doesn't know that the person he's talking to is too young mentally to understand what he's saying. Also the first major Tear Jerker in the series. Hoo-boy.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, Bun-bun is once shown lying on a couch talking about his thoughts and problems as if to a therapist, even though he's the last person you'd ever expect to do that. It's then revealed that he was talking to someone, because he needed someone to talk to to clear his thoughts - but that someone is Kiki, who immediately forgets everything he said when he shows her some shiny new car keys to play with. Bun-bun has also had his ears plugged to block out Kiki's incessant hyperactive chatter in response to what he's been saying.
  • This strip of Adventurers!. Khrima is just practicing his Evil Gloating.
  • In Goblin Hollow, Lily is on the phone, talking about how her sister is settling in, and slowly mounting to a screaming rage that her mother had not told her that her sister's best friend had committed suicide, which would explain her problems. Last panel shows a goblin asking whether she'll actually dial this time, and Lily saying she thinks she needs another dry run.
  • Used to great effect in Evil Plan where Alice heard Stan speaking with his former partner Will on video call. Turns out that Will is long dead and his personality is loaded onto The Computer, Stan likes to talk to a digitized recreation of his former friend when he is feeling down. Suffice to say the misunderstanding causes Alice problems when she eventually finds out Will was killed by Stan years ago.
  • Used on League of Super Redundant Heroes in a subversion of Talking to the Dead. Flying-Fox Man being a Batman Expy, when seen talking to a grave under the rain, you'd expect his paying respect to his dead parents. Except his parents are not dead, and he is actually making a phone call to them with an unseen earpiece. (The tomb is the family dog's.)

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Zuko does this in "The Western Air Temple", practicing his "Hi, I've made a Heel–Face Turn" speech in front of a frog. And then subverted for laughs when he walks up to Aang and company and gives the first bit of the same speech, intonation and all.
  • In Bob the Builder and the Knights of Can-A-Lot, Bob's dad has blithely assumed that he's in charge of the team fixing up a castle, and Bob is trying to find a tactful way of saying no, he isn't and things would run a lot smoother if he'd let Bob get on with things. The first time he brings it up, by the time he gets to the point, he turns around to see his dad's fallen asleep. A later scene opens with him just explaining things straight out, and then pulls back to reveal he's talking to a rabbit. He then asks if it's too mean, and the rabbit nods.
  • The first episode of Clerks: The Animated Series used this type of gag; A manhole cover is lifted partially open from the inside, and we hear Dante and Randall speak to one another while two sets of eyes are shown peeking out. Cue Dante and Randall walking past from offscreen.
  • Parodied in the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Dexter's Lab: A Story". Dad sees the lost dog in Dexter's bedroom and angrily summons him upstairs about the "lab" in there. Dexter freaks out, thinking Dad saw his secret lab, but Dad was really talking about the dog — a Labrador retriever, which he allows to keep, and Dexter is relieved.
  • Parodied in Family Guy: Peter asks his boss to come to dinner at his house and he's clearly practicing in a mirror. The Reveal shows that he's practicing in a mirror in his boss's office. His boss accepts.
  • In the Kim Possible episode "Emotion Sickness", a montage of Ron expressing his thoughts and concerns about Kim's sudden (Moodulator-induced) romantic interest in him ends in the reveal that he's talking to Mr. Barkin, who demands to know, "Stoppable, how did you get in my house?"
  • In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "A Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic", Rocko appears to be getting fed up with his slacker friend Heffer ("You're useless, and pathetic! Like... a useless and pathetic thing!") and is preparing to beat him to death, but he's really just frustrated that his old vacuum cleaner has broken down again.
  • The Patrick Star Show: In "Survivoring", Patrick, Cecil, and Squidina are on a camping trip. Squidina runs off into the forest in frustration, and Patrick wants to go after her, but Cecil stops him.
    Cecil: Oh, let it go, son. She'll be back. Remember: "There's no forest so dark it could stifle the light of a woman's soul."
    Patrick: Wow! That's beautiful, Dad!
    Cecil: Thanks! I read it off the wall of the bathroom I built!
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • In the episode "Candace Disconnected", Candace appears to be talking to her best friend Stacy on the phone (complete with mentioning her name and having an actual conversation), only for her head to turn and reveal to the audience that... she was talking into her own hand all along.
    • Also in "The Lemonade Stand", she sees a girl waving to her, calling her best friend, even though she doesn't know her, she accepts... only to find out she was talking to someone behind Candace.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Survival of the Idiots", SpongeBob is fascinated by the snow in Sandy's treedome and asks Patrick about it; Patrick then seems to give an inspirational speech about its wonders, and SpongeBob is brought to Tears of Joy, but then Patrick reveals he was only reading the wrapper of a candy bar.


Video Example(s):


Miles Teller's Speech

Taylor Swift's music video for "I Bet You Think About Me" opens with Miles Teller delivering a speech that turns out to be given in front of a mirror in a public bathroom.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / TrickDialogue

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