1. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dailog

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Ulramar, Jun 5, 2014.

    So I have a lot of dialogue in my writing, usually with two characters but sometimes more, meaning I need key words to identify who is speaking.

    What's a good list of words to use? So far, I have:

    - says
    - remarks
    - responds
    - ponders
    - questions
    - demands
    - inquires
    - commands
    - directs
    - asks
    - growls
    - barks
    - I'll add 'nods' to the end to some if they're affirming, 'shakes his/her head' for denying
    - denies
    - agrees
    - adds

    What do you all use? Is there a list you have, or one across the internet? I haven't found a good one, and sadly there's a lot of "says" in my writing, and I can only use the others so much without taking away their special flare.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2014
  2. A.M.P.
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    If it's a rather lengthy discourse, there is little need fordialogue tags for most of it. The only time you'd add a new one is because of possible confusion or something changed like the environment, an action taken, the tone.

    I just use whatever works, no need for a fancy listany more than a dictionary at my side 24/7. I'll typically add adjectives like "he said begrudgedly" or I'd cover the tag up with an action or just say "he growled" rather than "he said" or "he spat" "he yelped" "cried', whatever fits.
     
  3. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Usually with three or more characters, I have to identify who is speaking, unless it's obvious or unimportant to know.

    But I'm looking back, and there are some where the characters are stuck in whatever motion/activity they're in and they're just talking. There's no place to add in "as he reached for the blade" or things like that. But I'll try the adjectives. Thanks!
     
  4. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Depending on the narration you're using, generally it's from the PoV of a specific character so there is room to break up dialogue with their own thoughts or belifs or whatever to add flavor to what they are not telling the others or to build up upon the world.

    Also what can change is the environment during a conversation.

    "I have an ill feeling about this course." As if an ill omen, the wind turned cold suddenly and wrapped his cloack tightly about him. It only served to deepen his doubts on this entire affair he had never wanted any part of.

    Something like that.
     
  5. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sadly, my environments tend to stay stagnant until dialog ends. I don't know how to fix that to fit the writing, but I'll work on it. I'm running First Person present tense, so thoughts and other narration can break it up, but it doesn't always do that.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    My rule of thumb (caution, personal unqualified opinion follows ;)): Stay away from lists if the only purpose is to avoid using 'said' repeatedly. Use a different tag if you really think it adds to the reader's understanding of the dialogue.

    Instead, whenever you can, show the nature of the dialogue rather than telling the reader.

    I do use 'asked' and 'replied' or 'answered' rather than tagging a question as 'said'.

    "Go away!"
    The door slammed in John's face before he had a chance to tell her how sorry he was.

    Here's an edited excerpt from my book:
    “Hey Girlie, how’d you get all the way out here?” the man in the middle asked me. He leaned his head into my neck and licked my ear.

    “Eeew!” I turned my head and leaned as far away as I could.

    I heard a crack and jumped, looking reflexively toward the sound. The guy next to me was bleeding from his head and Stripes was leaning over the front seat holding the barrel of his weapon, a streak of blood on the handle.

    “Bloody ticks! I didn’t do nothin’. In case you didn’t notice I’m not exactly free to move here,” the injured man said to the guard.

    “Shut up,” was all Stripes said, turning back around facing forward. ​

    In other words use the dialogue in the story, rather than just having people talking with little else going on.
     
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  7. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    @GingerCoffee that's a rather solid example of what else you can do to avoid dialogue tags and make conversations more dynamic.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thank you. I take it that means you like my excerpt. :D
     
  9. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would not stick to "said" exclusively, but I'd try to reign in the urge to get really colorful.

    First you have the issue of what's possible and what isn't. It's common to see beginner writers mistakenly think repeating "said" and its ilk is bad writing, and instead try to fix it with worse writing. I'm talking tags like he hissed, she sputtered, I spat, he groaned, she spewed. Fact is, it's close to impossible to spew a line of dialog. Maybe someone can, but it's gotta be really tough. I'd strongly caution against using such colorful verbs--it's just not realistic.

    Second, it's easy to use adverbs and less common verbs as a way of either overexplaining or telling when you should be showing. The OP lists verbs like "denies," "agrees," and "demands." I'd argue that there's no need for these, because the context of the line and the narration around it should be enough for the reader to know that the tagged line is a denial, an agreement, or a demand. Tagging it as such is repetitive and spoonfeeds the reader.

    Relying on adverbs to convey meaning ("said sarcastically," "asked eagerly," "replied mysteriously") is also a problem. It's fine to use adverbs to modify dialog tags when it's warranted--they do exist for a reason. But it's also easy to use them as a crutch. Again, it should usually be clear from context how the line is being delivered. If not, consider your narration, the action, the body language of the speaker, and see why the line "needs" the modifier. Try to find better ways to show the meanings of those adverbs without beating your reader over the head with the obvious stick.

    But most importantly, make sure it flows. You don't always need a tag. Sometimes you can have action as beats instead, but don't make the motions empty. They should serve just as much purpose as any other action. Unattributed dialog can add suspense in a case where the POV character shouldn't know who spoke the line. Remember, the function of a dialog tag is clarity--simply to inform the reader who said what because the reader can't see it herself. It is inherently dispassionate. Make it quick, make it short-lived, make it as invisible and unobtrusive as possible, and get on with the action.
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I dunno, I used "she chimed in" once and my critique group pounced saying only bells chime. Then I looked it up and I had it right, chimed in was the correct tag.

    I'm not disagreeing with your post, I agree with it. But I still hold a grudge ;) against the critique group that dismissed 'chimed in'. I went and put it back in. :) I think one can spew words.

    This is one of those 'rules' that is more of a guideline than a rule.
     
  11. Okon
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    Hmm. What do you consider 'stuck' in a motion or activity? Do you consider eating or sewing to be 'stuck?' Character action, however minor, can be a great way to subtly direct the scene and keep the reader from imagining talking heads.

    Think about what the activity is, and how you can make it interesting or how it could relate to the dialogue.

    Jane could accidentally prick herself with a bobby pin when John asks why their bedroom window is open. Jane calmly replies with a quick lie, but we (and perhaps John) know that something is amiss.

    Sometimes it can be tell-ish to write something like this:
    Gordon picked up the rake and started raking leaves. He said cautiously, "Time to do some raking."

    An owl hooted cheerfully, "Those aren't your leaves, Gordon. Nope sir!"

    "Shut up," retorted Gordon.

    "You can't shut him up, nor can you escape your intimate desires," mocked the raven.

    Please not this again, conjured Gordon's cerebrum.

    The owl added, "Yup! You've got a thing for bubble wrap and horseshoes. We all know it. Ha ha!"

    Gordon angrily said, "Can I not rake in peace?"

    Even the most mundane of actions can have detail:
    Gordon picked up the rake, eyeing the evening sky. "Time to do some raking." Each word had trouble escaping his mouth; it was hard to be determined, after what happened Sunday. He willed himself on, scraping over the roots of the maple, intent on the most nestled leaves.

    A giggly voice came from above, on the upper branches. "Those aren't your leaves, Gordon. Nope sir!" It was the owl again, the little bugger was always in a good mood.

    "Shut up." Gordon had a small pile formed. He was almost finished.

    "You can't shut him up, nor can you escape your intimate desires." It was the raven talking now, with its scratchy tone.

    Please not this again, thought Gordon, digging deeper into the dirt with each stroke. Just one little root canal left.

    He heard talons swapping branches, followed by a hoot. "Yup! You've got a thing for bubble wrap and horseshoes. We all know it. Ha ha!"

    Gordon threw his rake at the tree and glared at the dizzying branches, his hands tight fists. "Can I not rake in peace?"




     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2014
  12. lostinwebspace
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    I typicall use said or asked 99% of the time. The other times are when I'm using another word for comedic effect or if it's my last resort. The reason why is that you want the dialog to do the heavy lifting, not the dialog tag. The words should be angry instead of the adverb. The guy should be stomping his feet instead of you saying he screamed. Pretty much what @Okon said, replied, taught, instructed, etc.

    My personal rule of thumb (caution, another personal unqualified opinion follows ;)): action is better than a dialog tag when you need to identify or reidentify a speaker. Why have a "he said" when he can scratch his nose, look down his glasses, or shield his eyes from the sun? So much opportunity for body language and expression is lost when all a character does is say or ask when they're saying or asking.
     
  13. xanadu
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    In the case of "chimed in," it wouldn't bother me since that's a known expression. Especially if it's used sparingly, I don't see any harm.

    Of course, that's about as subjective as it gets. As you said (stated/expressed/opined/etc :)), it's definitely more like a guideline (as are most if not all writing rules). Common sense should make the decision.

    Generally I agree. The danger is going overboard with actions like these (speaking from experience here), which can get repetitive, tedious, or just outright boring for readers. As long as the action has weight--shows character, moves plot, creates tension, etc--it's worth the words. If not--if it's just empty action for action's sake--you'd be better off with a quick tag or no tag and just move on.

    IMO, of course! Get out your salt shaker.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Here's an example of a story told entirely in dialogue, with more than two characters and few dialogue tags

    Table Talk - a Dialogue Exercise.
     
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  15. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for all the responses! I'm on mobile right now, so I'll type out a responss, maybe with an example, later. For now, I'll contemplate what I'll make of all of this.
     
  16. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Mais oui oui.

    Good point. I hadn't thought of that. The trick, then, is to figure out what's important to your character. Even a blink is important under some circumstances.

    But not one I can disagree with.
     
  17. Inkwell1
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    try some of these:
    -snarls
    -hisses
    -cackles
    -declared
    -insists
    -vocalizes
    -suggests
    -reveals
    -states

    sorry if I repeated some

    Good luck! :write:
     
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  18. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a quote right from my work in Chapter 2. They're just sitting there chatting. I don't know how to add action into that, sadly.
     
  19. Inkwell1
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    Something I noticed was the choppiness of the phrase,"I have a camp with a few others a few hundred yards from here." I usually don't like using a word twice in one sentence.
     
  20. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I'm still working on that. I'm thinking... "I have a camp with some other survivors a few hundred yards from here."
     
  21. Inkwell1
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    Yea, that sounds a little more smooth...how about "I have a camp with--" I scratch my head, not wanting to scare the poor, untrusting soul, but not wanting to lie either. "Er--some other...special...survivors."

    Just an idea, and personally, I like yours better!
     
  22. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am just optimizing the dailogue tags for now, I work on that part later. But thanks!
     

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