Dialogue – He said, she said

Why do we use dialogue in novels when it could all be done with prose? The benefits of using dialogue:.

  • It brings an engaging immediacy to the scene. You feel you are right there with the characters, involved in their conversation.
  • The dialect, choice of vocabulary, and the tone can reveal a person’s characteristics in a more interesting way than a wordy description could.
  • Dialogue can be a tool for advancing the plot, especially if  inner conflict is woven into the spoken conversation.

Some tips about using dialogue:

  • Use short snappy dialogue when appropriate. It heightens the tension.
  • People don’t normally use long sentences in conversation. They more often speak in fragments and phrases.
  • Speakers don’t repeat what the other person just said.
  • Don’t use it as an all-too-obvious way to pass on information in a way that the person normally would not do. (E.g., “Don’t yell at Henry. He’s only two years old and he’s our only boy.” Painfully obvious information forced into the story.)

Dialogue tags:

  • These are the words that tell the reader who is speaking. They can be a distraction or even an annoyance if belaboured. The “he said/she said” part of the sentence should be like punctuation; it’s very important, but shouldn’t stand out or be noticed. Fancy dialogue tags like argued, insisted, responded, inquired, questioned, and replied are an unnecessary distraction. In most cases, said and asked are all you need.
  • Having said that, try to limit your use of dialogue tags. Often if you precede or follow the dialogue with an action by the speaker, we know who is speaking. (E.g., Sam pointed at the ball. “Go fetch.”)
  • If your speaker is grimacing or laughing, be sure that this is occurring in its own sentence, not as part of a dialogue tag.

Examples:

Wrong – “That’s so funny,” Sam laughed.

Right – “That’s so funny.” Sam laughed. The period, instead of the comma makes all the difference. In most cases, though, the action should come before the dialogue.

Combining actions with dialogue:

  • Be careful how you handle this one. I see this done very often. Here is the pattern: “How are you?’ she asked, gazing at his eyes. When I peruse a book that I’m considering reading, I look for use of gerunds behind dialogue tags. If I see more than the occasional one, I’m already turned off. This kind of pattern stands out in a novel and can become irritating when you know that each set of quotation marks will be followed by the gerund pattern.

Here are some examples: “Pleased to meet you,” George said, pumping my hand up and down. “I’ll be right back,” David said, running down the street. “Give those back,” he said, grabbing at the candies. “It already looks irritating to me,” Anneli said, going on to a different book.

Conclusion:

Dialogue can be an effective tool to make your novel more readable and engaging. It’s definitely a skill worth working on. Watch for examples of dialogue in novels. Do they work? What are the faults, if any, in the writing of the dialogue? Take some bad examples you find and see if you can make them more effective. When you know how to use dialogue to your advantage you’ll find that the quality of writing in your novel improves greatly.

 But best of all, writing dialogue can be fun, especially when your characters, saying what they would naturally say, steer the conversation in a direction you hadn’t intended it to go. So watch out for those characters with a mind of their own, but have fun chatting.

Anneli Purchase is a published author who works with writers to bring out their best. She is a freelance copy-editor providing services that include correcting spelling, punctuation, word usage, sentence structure and balance, and many other aspects of writing. To find out more about Anneli, go to her website at http://www.anneli-purchase.com/.

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Have you ever struggled with writing dialogue?

Has your dialogue ever sent your storyline off in a different direction from what you had planned?

Please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear what you think.

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Rewriting. What to do and when to stop.

I love rewriting better than writing the first draft of my novels.

  • First I’m much more relaxed because I know the hard work of getting the storyline on “paper” is done.
  • As I rewrite I find mistakes and have a feeling of satisfaction when I fix them.
  • I find little treasures like a paragraph that I can rewrite using dialogue rather than boring narrative, and I’m pleased with myself for figuring that out.
  • I can’t believe I fell for the use of other words as dialogue tags instead of “said” and “asked” and I fix those, reaffirming that I can make the dialogue do the job of expressing the emotion rather than relying on the dialogue tag to provide it. Fancy words like “inquired” and “replied” just slow down the action. “Said” and “asked” are more like punctuation—necessary, but meant to be glossed over. This is also the place where I look for “ing” words and get rid of them if possible. (For example: “I’ll be right there,” she said, putting down the phone.) If she was putting down the phone when she was speaking into it, I wonder if the other party even heard her.
  • I look for repeated words and try to avoid using the same words or expressions in one paragraph. Repetition becomes obvious immediately when reading your work out loud.
  • Speaking of repetition, character names are often overused, especially in dialogue. Have you ever noticed that when you’re talking to someone, you rarely speak their name? The other person knows you’re talking to them and you and that person both know his or her name. Why would you keep on saying it? So for natural conversation, use the other person’s name sparingly. I often have to take out names in dialogue, and in narrative sections I replace them when possible with he or she.
  • In dialogue, the sentences should be fairly short. I need to check for long sentences that give a lot of information. People just don’t talk that way. Often they use only one or two words or phrases. Besides, short, snappy dialogue heightens the tension and that is what every author is striving for.
  • In the rewrite, I can also add little tidbits of description of people or places, but I try to be careful to do it in small doses. Long descriptions have a huge “yawn” factor.
  • When someone speaks, they may have some physical or emotional reaction that should be added, usually before the quotation. This is a good time to add that information.
  • As I reread my first draft, it’s important that I remember which point of view I’m in. I’ve made some awful POV mistakes that my critiquing buddy or I have found. For example, if I’m telling the scene in Andrea’s POV, I can’t write a thought that is happening in Jim’s head. Andrea has no way of knowing what he is thinking. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to fix POV problems before publication and save myself some embarrassment.
  • Now that I’ve mentioned my critiquing buddy, I have to say that my writing efforts are made so much easier because of her. I try to do the same for her and it makes us a great team. If you don’t have a writing buddy to exchange files with and help each other out, it’s very much worth your while to try to find someone who is willing to work with you. I find my buddy’s help invaluable! Oops! She’ll say not to use exclamation marks unless it’s for a one- or two-word expression, but in this case, I do want to stress that her help is invaluable!

 Most authors are perfectionists and they tend to rewrite over and over. I’ve heard it said that an author can tell that they’re finished rewriting when they end up with what they originally wrote in the first rewrite. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but sometimes you wonder ….

Effective Dialogue

Darlene Jones has agreed to be my guest today to talk about the value of good dialogue in a novel. Here she comes on her famous camel. Welcome, author Darlene Jones.

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Dialogue is an integral part of any novel. The verbal exchanges between characters add zip and spice to the story.

Good dialogue sounds natural. Characters don’t repeat each other’s words. They don’t speak in full grammatically correct sentences. When writing dialogue, the author must always ask him or herself what the person would really say.

The author must also consider dialogue tags. The general rule is to only use “said” or “asked.” And, if possible, avoid a dialogue tag by using an action of the character to let the reader know who is speaking. For example:  “No, please, don’t go,” Yves said.  Or “No, please, don’t go.” Yves reached out to stop her. The second version clearly identifies the speaker and creates a better picture because of his action.

Generally action precedes speech. He smiled, but the mirth did not reach his eyes. “It’s my job.” is more natural than, “It’s my job.” He smiled, but the mirth did not reach his eyes.

There are also times when dialogue can go back and forth for a bit without tags.

Used skilfully, dialogue is a tool that can provide tension and emotion, something every good novel needs. Here is a sample from my novel EMBROILED.

“I’m driving home from the conference when the slough catches my eye. I’m mesmerized by the damn thing. I feel an insane urge to walk on the thin fall ice, to explore the fishing holes, to lie spread-eagled to distribute my weight. I know full well I’ll break through and drown, but I’ll be warm and taken care of. What I find down there will make it worthwhile.” Emily felt her chest tighten. Each time she came to David’s office, each time she spoke of her greatest fears, she felt the strings to sanity loosening. Am I crazy, Doc?

Excerpt: 

Emily sighed. “I was such a fool back then, Doc.” High school life was filled with great gobs of loneliness. No amount of wishing took that away.

“Yeah, Doc, I’ve dated some since then. If going out even though I don’t really like the guy counts as dating.”

“Why do you go then?” David asked.

Emily shrugged. “Why not? At least it gets me out.”

“Do you enjoy those evenings?”

“No.”

“Do any of the dates lead to sex?”

“No.”

“Why not?” David paused. “Emily, you’re a normal healthy human. You must have a sex drive. Why not fulfill it?”

“Just because everyone else does?” Emily shook her head. “Not my style.” She waited for David to ask her if she was a virgin.

David tapped his empty pipe in the empty ashtray. Pins and needles prickled at Emily as she waited for his response. She was scared of what he might say and yet she desperately wanted to hear his words.

“Waiting for Mr. Right?”

“Something like that.”

“I don’t think that’s it.” David hesitated. “What are you afraid of, Emily? What is holding you back from loving and being loved?”

Emily sucked in air. “Whatever is under that ice.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “That’s what.” An ache deep inside almost made her cry.

 

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