1. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado

    Dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by auntiebetty, Dec 27, 2012.

    Example of what I wrote and how it was criticized:

    Pat came back to the house in time for dinner. He and Cari sat on the front porch after Cari had helped clean up after dinner. Pat told Cari, "Ben Rudner is a high muckety muck in Canton, and he offered me a job."

    Critique: HERE'S THAT HORRIBLE DIALOGUE PROBLEM AGAIN. IT IS SOOOO BAD. FROM NOW ON, IF YOU CANNOT FIND IT YOURSELF AND CORRECT IT BEFORE YOU SEND IT TO ME, I'M GOING TO HAVE TO FORCE TO TAKE THE PROBLEM ON BY YOURSELF! BY REFUSING TO EDIT ANY FURTHER OF YOUR SECTION SENT TO ME UNTIL YOU CORRECT THE ENTIRE PIECE AND SEND IT BACK TO ME CORRECTED. SORR TO GET TOUGH, BUT YOU HAVE TO BREAK THIS VERY BAD HABIT UNLESS YOU THINK IT ENHANCES YOUR CHANCES OF BEING PUBLISHED AND READ.
     
  2. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,828
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Are you trying to find out what's wrong with it Auntiebetty?
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I wouldn't say it's so much a dialogue problem as a scene that has been badly rushed. Obviously, we are seeing this out of context, and a somewhat larger excerpt would be needed in the Writing Workshop to do it justice.

    But as a paragraph, it hurtles from arriving in time for dinner (necessary?), Cari helping to clean up after the meal (omit if unnecessary, or expand it a bit if worth keeping at all), then settling on the porch for a quiet evening, and finally Pat blurting out something about a job offer out of the blue.

    No preamble. Was he distracted during the meal? Or was he avoiding the subject? Show him toying with his food, or somehow indicate his reluctance to bring it up. Did they clean up dinner together? Why didn't he say something then? After they settled on the porch, lead into the discussion. Maybe Cari notices he's holding something bak, and calls him on it, verbally or not.

    See? It's not entirely the dialogue, it's the whole framing of it. A job offer is momentous. You can show a lot about how Pat feels about it, and how he thinks Cari will react to the news, in how you present it. His pronouncement of the whole thing in one terse sentence with no context just doesn't fit.

    Dialogue reveals relationships and character. What is said often takes a back seat to what is not said. Make the dialogue paint a picture of the emotional context of the scene.
     
  4. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    Actually, I see several errors with it myself:
    Pat came home from dinner doesn't necessarily fit with the dialogue you're writing. The front porch can be done differently.

    Pat sat down on the porch and looked over at Cari. "Bed Runder offered me a job today."

    What's the problem, it looks like to me, is combining to many actions before you dialogue. While actions done BEFORE the speech go first, the line 'home in time for dinner' belongs somewhere else. Along with cleaning up after dinner-that could be somewhere else before the dialogue. Now, sitting on the porch can fit with the dialogue, but there's some issues with dialogue. While slang is useful to bring character's to life, there's a fine line between characterization and good dialogue. A simple line above would work..or a longer piece:

    "You're not going to believe what happened today. You know that guy, Ben Rudner? The one who's such a big wig? He offered me a job today."
     
  5. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado
    Thank you all for your thoughtful input. You all hit the problems head on.
    The scene is rushed writing. It's like a place holder that needs to be written now before it's lost.
    Setting: 1920's prohibition
    Characters: Pat, a pool hall hustler
    Cari: a young woman who passes for a teenaged boy, and who has within the past week been the driver of the getaway car for a train robbery where her cohorts killed the train guard
    Ben Rudner: the head of the bootleg business

    The dialogue is rough because these are rough characters. The attack I received is for preceding the dialogue with the words, Pat told Cari.

    I'm trying to figure out what is wrong with the that construction.

    But, thanks for the other tips as well.
     
  6. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,828
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    If this is for your vintage story that you were working on Auntiebetty - I'd chop out the
    slang. Some retro slang can be used for authentic purposes but some
    of it is going to come across as funny and spoil the scene.

    Also Cogito and Captain Kate are right - A good lead up scene will help set the
    tone and not make the conversation sound so abrupt.

    But if you don't want to ad a scene, just make the sentence start on a transition -
    After dinner, Pat and Cari retired to the porch to watch the stars. After
    lighting a pipe, he turned to Cari and said... example.
     
  7. Daniel Cassidy
    Offline

    Daniel Cassidy Member

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2012
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    0
    On a different writing forums I sparked a 4 page debate about the use of tagging such as "Pat told Cari" with a similar question.

    The end result was "use word tags sparingly, use action/beat tags whenever possible".

    Deep in thought, Pat started out at the horizon then set his glass down on the table. "Ben Rudner is a high muckety muck in Canton, and he offered me a job."
     
  8. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado
    Hi Peachalulu and Daniel:

    Thank you both for weighing in on this.

    Yes, Peachalulu, this is the novel I started in July. For Daniel, here is a little background.

    I recognize the signifcan't issues with the short example that I gave. I did it to highlight the exact point of the critique that follows in all caps. In my example there are two characters. The action preceding the dialogue is that this is Pat's and Cari's first visit to Canton and their first meeting with Cari's distant Italian immigrant relatives. Pat had been out prior to dinner, unkown to Cari with whom, or if he would return in time for dinner. Pat previously told Cari that he met Ben Rudner when they were in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary together. The setting is prohibition era 1923. Ben Rudner is the head of the area bootlegging operation. Pat returned in time for dinner with the family.

    Pat and Cari sat on the porch after dinner. Pat told Cari, "Ben Rudner is a high muckety muck in Canton and he offered me a job."

    The critique in ALL CAPS in my post is complaining about my horrible use of introducing the dialogue with: Pat told Cari. For the life of me, I can not see that as a problem. What am I missing?

    Not to dismiss any of the other elements of concern that are noted by all the reviewers above, I am concentrating on this dialogue tag for now.

    auntie betty
     
  9. twohappymonkeys
    Offline

    twohappymonkeys Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2012
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Everett, WA
    The issue as I see it is you are telling us Pat told Cari, instead of showing it. By telling instead of showing, you deflate the following dialogue. It makes the reader disinterested. There is a time and a place for conciseness, but you can still paint a masterpiece with only a few strokes instead of a grocery list (which is what this feels like). Here's an example:

    Pat arrived with the food still simmering. Distracted by recent events, dinner and clean up was quiet with Cari stealing sidelong glances, wondering. Finally, Pat broke the silence, picking at his fingernails as he spoke. "You know Ben Rudner, that high Mucky-muck in Canton?" He stopped picking and looked into her eyes. "He offered me a job today."

    There is more significance to their actions when you inject behaviorism, rather than listing - it makes them feel human, connected to all of us, rather than stencils. Ask yourself what else they may be doing while they eat, clean, sit down, talk? How do they tilt their heads, how do they interact with each other? What are the sounds of the neighborhood? What are the smells of the house? How is Cari dressed? Is she wearing perfume? How is Pat dressed? Does he twirl his hat? 90% of it isn't important, but knowing it in your own head helps paint a better picture. Adding a little of this makes them human and makes the reader care.
     
  10. Daniel Cassidy
    Offline

    Daniel Cassidy Member

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2012
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    0
    The problem with dialogue tags such as "Pat told Cari" is threefold:

    1) They are often crutches for lazy storytelling. As previously noted, you could introduce more imagery and story to "beat" the dialogue.

    2) They can distract the reader. When I read, I want seamless storytelling and "he said/she said" is not actually part of the story, they DIRECT the story and the overuse of them can pull some readers out of the immersion.

    3) They cause word clutter. They aren't needed and take up space which could be better filled with actual storytelling.

    Edit: I'm not suggesting you should COMPLETELY avoid dialogue tags, but they should be used only when needed.
     
  11. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado
    So is the simplistic explanation: dialogue is simple, but creative fiction is not just simple dialogue?
     
  12. Lost72
    Offline

    Lost72 Member

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2011
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    North-east England
    Your editor should know there's only one O in so. What a nasty way to go about things.

    Your excerpt is your narrator. That's fine, but your dialogue needs to be more immediate than that. The tag that leads in to your dialogue is still pure narrator and, as a result, it lends the same quality to the dialogue. Basically, everything is filtered. So I agree with your editor, though they do need to wind their neck in and learn some manners.
     
  13. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    To begin with, only Pat and Cari are in the scene, so it's unnecessary and a bit tedious to name both of them in the tag. The most you should use as a tag would therefore be Pat said,

    But even that would be weak. I would open with a beat instead.

    The beat keeps the scene action moving right up to the beginning of the actual dialogue.
     
  14. Selbbin
    Online

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    3,238
    Likes Received:
    1,806
    Location:
    Australia


    Spot on. This re-write is far superior (apart from the redundant 'down' and the typo in 'started' -- I assume it's stared.)
     
  15. psychotick
    Offline

    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2011
    Messages:
    1,373
    Likes Received:
    309
    Location:
    Rotorua, New Zealand
    Hi,

    I'd agree with all that's been said but just add this, don't put A told B in front of a dialogue. I think from what you've said your friend criticised, that's the thing that's reads badly. And he's right. If I was to start a sentence A told B I would intend to follow it with a description of what was said, not the actual line. It's simply the natural order of things. But you can check this for yourself. Read the following two lines out loud to yourself and you'll see.

    Pat said, "You'll fall over."

    "You'll fall over." Pat said.

    You see how in the first one your thoughts immediately turn to the idea that someone is telling you what Pat said, until you reread the quotes. Your instinct is to read it as 'Pat said you'll fall over.'

    So with the line it immediately reads ten times better if you simply put Pat told Cari, after what was said. However, then come all the other issues of whether you need to include this at all or whether instead it should just be Pat said.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  16. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    cog's observations and suggestions are spot on... about what i would have said had he not beaten me to it... my best advice is to follow just his advice...
     
  17. Daniel Cassidy
    Offline

    Daniel Cassidy Member

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2012
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    0
    Yes, you are right on both accounts : )

    One was a typo, and one was unnecessary.
     

Share This Page