Monthly Archives: September 2013

On Dialogue

Today’s study was on dialogue.

It seems fairly straight forward, right? Multiple characters exchanging words – it’s all about the he said, she said. Except that anyone who has read a book that involves much dialogue knows that it can sometimes get difficult to follow. It can also add to a story or become a distraction. The worst is when it gets too repetitive – he said, he said, he said, he asked, he said…

Most of the research I did resulted in the same few suggestions over and over, but a few unique tidbits came up as well. The following is all the information I pulled from my reading today. I’ll include links throughout and at the end, in case you want to do more research yourself.

Punctuate.

Learn how to properly punctuate dialogue. There are rules for doing this properly and following them ensures that your reader will be able to follow your dialogue. If they can’t, they’ll probably stop reading.

Realistic, Not Verbatim

If writers only wrote the way people actually speak, half of the things that needed to be said in novels would not be said. Readers would also quickly lose interest or become bogged down in needless chatter or ‘um’s and ‘ah’s.

This ties into the next point…

Make It Useful

Dialogue should add to your story, not detract or distract. Use it to reveal something important, use it to set a scene, use it to develop a character. Don’t let it just be idle chatter – it’ll get boring.

People Speak Differently

I use the word the phrase “hold the phone” fairly often, which I’ve been made fun of for quite a bit because no one else seems to say it. If you were going to write me into your story, you’d know it was me speaking by the cadence of speech, the words I use, and especially if I use that phrase. “Alex said” would not be needed. This should be true of your characters. Learn how they speak and how they speak differently from one another.

Reveal, Don’t Inform

If a character knows something that the reader does not, do not inform the reader by making the character talk about it. We don’t do this in day-to-day conversation, so this really falls under the Realistic category – but it’s worth making special note of.

Dialogue can also be used as a tool to reveal things about a character that can only be done through interaction with others – like their sense of humor. We tend to act differently around others and different groups of people. This can be shown through dialogue.

Easy With The He Said, She Said

Ever read a story in which every line of dialogue was tagged with ,” he said? Annoying. If you got the ‘People Speak Differently’ part down, you shouldn’t have to label each line with who’s talking – that should be apparently. Every few lines it is good to put in a reminder tag to help the reader keep up, but throwing out some different verbs can also help to break monotony. Asked, yelled, hissed, whined, etc – these can really add to the dialogue, as well.

Pruhseed Wit Cawshun

Dialect can be a very useful tool in writing. It can also put some drag on your story if your reader struggles with it and it can have the undesired consequence of attaching a stereotype to a character that doesn’t actually fit that character. As always, make sure it adds to the story – don’t let it be a distraction. Proceed with caution.

Characters Fidget

Again with the realism – we don’t stop and stand still when we talk. Many people are animated speakers, others fidget with their hands when they’re talking about something that worries them, and some people twirl their hair. Break up the dialogue runs with a little action.

Silence Is Golden

Also known as, what’s not said can be just as important as what is. Think of the stoic old Clint Eastwood characters – they don’t say much, but they often don’t have to, right?

Script Frenzy offered a lot of keen examples for some of the points above, particularly Reveal, Don’t Inform. The article also has a fantastic title. Robert J Sawyer gave some great examples as well, more on the points of Realistic, Not Verbatim and People Talk Differently. He also offers some good tips for practicing writing dialogue. Chris Harris also had some excellent recommendations for practicing dialogue. Other sources I used include David Ellis, Write to Done, and Daily Writing Tips.

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Distraction; how do you deal with it?

My partner is a great supporter of my writing. At the same time, he can be a great obstacle to it.

I write most easily when I can completely escape into the words. Ideally, I wake up early (even though I’m anything but a morning person) and enjoy the solitude over a cup of coffee, perhaps using the time to catch up on my reading. Once fully awake, I write. With distractions at a minimum in the morning and my dear partner out of the house, my creative process thrives. I can make goofy faces as I go through the emotions of a character, I can mumble words to myself as I type, and I can sit and stare at a screen for hours while I puzzle out a scene before putting words to paper.

All of this becomes much more difficult in his presence.

If I put my palms against my eyes and sigh, he checks to make sure I’m okay. If he reads a particularly interesting something-er-other, he’s GOT to tell me about it. (He’s gotten better about allowing me to say “give me five minutes” while I finish a line, though.) Often, he lounges on the couch watching videos with the sound up and I have to put on headphones and music to drown it all out. It’s all incredibly sweet but, shortly put, he can be incredibly distracting!

Occasionally, I daydream of my own office – a place where I can go to write, free of distraction. However, I fear if that was ever realized I might never leave it…

I may have written about all this before. If so, I apologize for the repetition. It’s just that the past two weeks I’ve been acutely aware of this struggle because my dearest partner has been on holiday. It’s lovely to have him home, to watch him unwinding from the stress of everything. At the same time, I cannot wait for him to go back to work! Does anyone have any good tips for dealing with distractions?

In other news, tomorrow begins the challenge week in which I work on expanding my Writer’s Toolbox. I need to explore writing concepts and techniques, educate myself a bit more. With a belly full of food and a pillow calling my name, this all sounds like a great amount of work… but the back of my mind is itching with excitement! I know in the morning, I will probably overload myself with ideas to start working with. Fingers crossed!

Beyond all this, I must apologize, dear readers. I’ve clearly not kept up with my commitment to this challenge. The first thing to go out the window was catching up on your writing – which I don’t consider very fair. I’ll have to make it up to you in some way. Perhaps spend a day attempting to catch up on all my subscriptions? Reading the blogs of everyone who interacts with my work? We’ll have to see.

The last thing I’ll talk about here is the sadness I feel to know that Miyazaki is retiring. For those who don’t know, Hayao Miyazaki is a creative genius who co-founded Studio Ghibli and is responsible for such wonderful movies as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. He has a profound way of bringing the wonder of childhood to life before our very eyes. Recently, I’ve been reading the Howl’s Moving Castle series by Diana Wynne Jones – Miyazaki adapted the first book into a movie – which makes this news all the more relative for me. Both the books and the film are nothing short of wonderful. So, if you’ve not seen any of his works – I suggest you take a look into at least one. While I wish him the best, I am saddened to know that his next film will be the last and I can only hope that Studio Ghibli continues to do great things after he retires.

Until tomorrow, my friends!

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