1. Community
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    Can a fiction novel have dialogue written like this?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Community, Jul 14, 2010.

    I'm not writing a screenplay, I'm writing a novel. But I wanted to know if it is possible to write dialogue like this:

    John: "blah blah blah"
    Jill: "blah blah"
    John: "blah blah"

    Instead of the typical format like:

    "Blah blah," said John.
    Jill yelled, "blah blah."
    John responded, "blah blah."
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I've seen it done in fiction novels before, though not often. I suppose the main question is: why do you want to do it that way? And whether the possibility that you'll turn off readers because of it is worth the effect you are trying to achieve.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've seen it done. I even remember that in James Michener's Space, the dialogue in the first few parts is normal, and then it switches to being as it is in your example. Two ways of notating dialogue in one book. That didn't prevent that novel from hitting the bestseller lists, though.

    So go ahead and do it.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    The big question is not if you can, but if you should. What does it add to the novel that makes it necessary?

    I can't imagine any benefit from writing dialogue in that way (whereas styles like non-punctuated dialogue have clear benefits (or at least meaningful and significant effects)), but if you feel it's justified, go for it.
     
  5. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Terrible idea. Don't. Just...DON'T.
     
  6. Community
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    I guess my worry is that saying things like "he said", "she whispered", seems to clutter the dialogue. I want the dialogue to flow like a real conversation and peperring it with "he cried", "she said" kind of stops it, doesn't it?
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just stick to he/she said and you'll be okay. It's such an established way of showing dialogue that the reader isn't even aware of it, so it doesn't stop the flow, don't worry.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't see how something like this would be useful. It would seem too much like reading a play. Doing this may also make it hard to get your work published.

    To answer the question, I have never seen it done in a novel. But I have seen it done in one of Hemingway's short stories.
     
  9. Tamsin
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    Tamsin Senior Member

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    You run the risk of drawing attention to the style rather than the content of the dialogue, therefore it really depends on what type of novel you are writing. You can choose however you want to lay out your novel and actually what people tend to like novels for are these little quirks in style. Chekov did it in some of his short stories too.

    The script-style dialogue is non-traditional in prose and so can achieve lots of different effects. If a character was narrating and recounting a strange or funny conversation overheard somewhere it would work well. Perhaps if you do it for the whole novel it would distance the reader from the characters speaking but would draw them closer to the narrator. It does seem quite a detached way to write dialogue. I think it is quite a cute way of writing dialogue in prose actually.

    If the only reason you want to do it is to avoid the he said/she said thing then there are other ways around it. Like people have already said, you need a definite reason for doing it that adds to the story, not just distracts from it. It has to fit in with the narrative style.

    To avoid the he said/she said thing just write your dialogue without it. Many authors skip it as the reader can usually tell who is speaking (and how they say it) just from the description if you are clear enough.

    So basically, do it if you want to!!
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    As others have said, it is possible. The answer to "is it possible to write X this way" is always yes. But the question you need to ask is whether it's a good idea to write it that way (a question we should ask when writing in conventional ways as well as unconventional ways). Ask yourself what the positive and negative effects of doing it that way are, whether it would be better to do it another way. If you decide that it's the best way to get the effect you want then do it -- but not before going through those steps.
     
  11. digitig
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    That was my immediate reaction to it. It sounds like a teenage first-person narrator reporting a dialogue, and the sort of thing that would fit quite naturally in short bursts in teen fiction. If it's an adult reporting dialogue that way then the adult is going to sound immature, the stereotype airhead friend in romcoms. If the overall narration is in that style then the overall narrator is going to sound like an airhead. Any of those could work, although a potentially annoying main narrator is going to be particularly hard to pull off because your readers are not likely to want to listen for long to somebody they find annoying.
     
  12. Michanist
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    I don't think it's a good idea to make dialogues like that, why would you like to do it?
    It makes your book look like some instant messenger chat instead of a story.
     
  13. digitig
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    A book might look like a series of letters instead of a story, or a diary instead of a story. Why not an IM chat instead of a story? (Ok, there probably are technical issues, particularly associated with pace, but the book looking like something other than a story is not itself an issue.)
     
  14. Sonata
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    In well written dialogue, you don't even notice the he saids she saids. Read some dialogue in a similar piece to what you're writing. Did you feel they stopped the flow before you switched from reader to writer?
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try knocking our most of the he saids and she saids. Most of them are probably redundant: the reader will know who is speaking once you've established the initial flow of the dialogue (especially if your characters have distinctive voices). If you feel they can't, put in some character actions:
    "Well, this is all rather difficult, isn't it?" John removed his glasses and started polishing them with a tissue from the box on the table. "I suppose I could put in a word for you, but I have my own reputation to consider."​
    You can tell who is speaking, but not a "he said" or "she said" in sight.
     
  16. Sonata
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    I tend to disagree slightly with that. As a reader I like dialogue which I don't even notice is written and too many actions interrupt the conversation and remind me that I'm reading and not actually there.

    I don't even notice a well placed "said" but I do feel the best dialogue is when the characters' styles speak for themselves and little or nothing is needed at all.
     
  17. digitig
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    "Too many" and "well placed" are the key phrases there. I don't think we're disagreeing. Remember I only suggested including the actions after trying to make "the characters' styles speak for themselves", and only after removing most (not all) instances of "said".
     
  18. Mantha Hendrix
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    As Madhoca said, he said/she said really doesn't faze the flow. Most readers are so used to it that this is an impossibility.

    In fact I believe writing it in the way you desire to do so could damage it more.

    As Tamsin said many authors skip the he said/she said. A good example of this is Cormac McCarthy. He even manages to do so to great effect.
     
  19. Sonata
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    Perhaps I want to pretend we're disagreeing for the sake of it :p
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Just stick to "said," when necessary. Don't throw in other dialog tags like "cried," or "whispered," or what have you. And when it is clear who is speaking, don't use any tag at all. That addresses your concern without adopting a style that calls attention to itself.
     
  21. digitig
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    How would there be a story without tension? ;)
     
  22. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    There's noting inherently wrong with using a style that calls deliberate attention to itself, so long as the style is good. And I don't see how this style of dialogue would be.
     
  23. Unit7
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    Actually there is an author who has already done this. The book is comprised of emails and IMs with all the text lingo to drive a grammar nazi into the insane asylum. :(

    Personally I wouldn't do that for dialogue. Now if this was for some recording of a conversation then it might work.

    But otherwise I find it boring. Why not just write

    "So whats new?" asked Bobby as he danced around naked.
    Jim smiled. "Other then the image of you like this burned into my brain? Nothing."

    Reads so much better then.

    Bobby: So whats new?
    Jim: Other then the image of you like this burned into my brain? Nothing.

    I suppose you could say Bobby dnaced around naked: and Jim Smiled: and such. But. Doesn't really flow right.

    Also with the traditional format, you can sneak in so much more information about the characters. Dialogue and all the beats and dialogue tags can add great development between 2 characters. Something that would either be missed completely or just sound weird.

    Stick with the traditional way.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no, it doesn't!... it's so much the norm, it's not even noticed, as posters above have mentioned... what you want to do does stop the reader, with all those pesky colon-ed names to get through, before we find out what's being said...

    there's no flow to it whatsoever, just an interminable series of stops and starts...

    and, btw, all novels are 'fiction'... if you refer to your book in queries to agents as 'a fiction novel' you'll just be branding yourself a know-nothing newbie and risk neither you nor your ms being taken seriously...
     
  25. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Unless it's a screenplay, serious writing like that usually turns readers off, unless it's a story in IM format like others have said. It gives them the idea that you're not skilled enough as a writer to use the regular format. Mediocraty (sp?), in a sense. It would be as if you centered EVERYTHING in your novel, unncecessary.

    Usually, if the dialogue's between two people, the said-tags aren't even required after a few lines. Even then, you can use variations like "whispered" and "yelled". Like this:

    "The dog needs to go out," Alice chastised, although to Bob it sounded more like nagging. She was doing a crossword or something, clicking her pen annoyingly.

    "Can't you do it?" He said, yawning. It was his only day off in the week. Couldn't she give him some rest?

    "I walked him last time."

    "No, I did."

    "No, you didn't. You were working again!" She threw down her Cosmopolitan issue in exasperation, grabbing the leash and slamming the door in a huff. Bob picked up the magazine in shock. She had been filling ut the featured quiz: "Is Your Man Lazy? Ways to Know if He Still Cares About You". Counting up her score, he'd realized he'd gotten a big fat zero.
     

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