1. ChaseRoberts
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    ChaseRoberts Senior Member

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    He said, she said...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ChaseRoberts, Jul 13, 2009.

    I've been writing shedloads of my novel recently, but on re-reading it, there's something that has been seriously bugging me.

    Sometimes, when I'm conveying either a character movement or a conversation, it becomes a bit stagnant. You know, the old 'he said, she said' sort of thing. I feel like I'm repeating myself a lot, which, if I notice it, is going to be incredibly noticeable to any readers.

    I'm not entirely sure how to fix it, and I think one of my major failings is just simply not knowing enough words. I've got one character who doesn't speak much, she tends just to acknowledge what's said with a nod or whatever. I'm struggling to come up with different ways to say 'she nodded' without sounding like I only know one sentance and I have to put it in at least once every page.

    Do you have any suggestions about this? Have you encountered it? Have you overcome it?

    Help would be appreciated.
     
  2. Necromortis
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    Necromortis Member

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    This may not be as big of a problem as you think it is. The reader often unconsciously skips over the 'he said/she said' tags without even thinking about it. It's the outlandish ones ("he whispered," "she croaked") that draw attention and interrupt the flow of the work.

    Also, keep in mind that you can leave the tags out of quite a bit of dialogue. You don't need them after every single instance that your characters talk. Once you have established the order of who's speaking, just drop them altogether.

    The same goes for the nodding problem you have - establish that your character is acknowledging what is being said, and then just let the other characters talk.

    ~Christian
     
  3. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Exactly.

    For example (from Evernight by Claudia Gray):
    See, in both paragraphs, there's no dialogue tag.
     
  4. Ferb
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    Ferb Member

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    Yeah, I have the same problem. I've tried this approach...

    ...but it never comes out right. Sometimes I end up writing irrelevant details just because I'm uncomfortable with letting them stand there and have their conversation. Sometimes I end up replacing dialogue with thoughts or other descriptions - anything but actual conversations.

    Either way, I don't think I know what I'm doing either.
     
  5. nativesodlier
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    nativesodlier Member

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    I feel that some irrelevant details help bring in the reader more. having someone fidgeting with a pencil or taping on the desk while they speak sends out a better picture.
     
  6. Ferb
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    Ferb Member

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    Yes, but how many times can a character crosses and uncrosses her arms before even the most forgiving readers realize the writer is doing something wrong?
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can use leading and trailing tags, nearly all of which should be of the form xxx said. Tags consisting of a noun or pronoun and the word said virtually disappear. Avoid the temptation to start throwing in lots of other verbs for variety, although occasionally another verb may work better.
    You can use dialoque fragnmenst with no tag, if there is no ambiguity as to who is speaking, But don't do it to the extant that the reader has to count back to keep track of whose turn it was to speak.

    You can use beats, i.e. small actions separating dioalogue fragments. Ferb uses beats in the fourth post in this thread. Again, overdoing them can be distracting, but used well, they can modulate the pace of the dialogue.
     
  8. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    If you do have some kind of action associated with dialogue, it's not too bad. If you want to make sure that it doesn't seem redundant or unnecessary, just make sure that the action is consistent with the character's personality (a nervous character would twitch, a bad-tempered character may quickly slam the desk). It's a subtle way to tell the reader "Character A is feeling depressed again" without actually saying "Character A is feeling depressed", and its great for character development. Furthermore, when a character does something that's not usual to their behavior, a good reader will sense that something is wrong - maybe the character has changed their personality, or maybe the character is having a nervous breakdown, for example.
     
  9. nativesodlier
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    nativesodlier Member

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    true, but if you use them spaced out strategically through their dialog it can work.
     
  10. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    "I've been writing shedloads of my novel recently, but on re-reading it, there's something that has been seriously bugging me." Chase blew her nose. Maybe it was just the cold, but she felt exhausted from writing, where she usually felt energized.

    "How can I help?" Chase's aunt was an editor of some newsletter or something. At least that's what Chase thought. If nothing else, she was the world's best advice-giver.

    "Sometimes," Chase said, "when I'm conveying either a character movement or a conversation, it becomes a bit stagnant." She rubbed her red watery eyes and reached for another tissue. "You know, which, if I notice it," Chase said and rolled her eyes in exasperation, "is going to be incredibly noticeable to any readers. I'm not entirely sure how to fix it."

    "Maybe I can take a--"

    "And I think one of my major failings is just simply not knowing enough words." By now Chase was about to sneeze again and didn't even realize she'd cut off her aunt mid-sentence. Not having enough words was ridiculous, of course. Chase always had something say.

    "I've got one character who doesn't speak much." Chase was determined to get to the heart of her problem while she had Auntie here with her. Besides that, she was bound to start sneezing again. "She tends just to acknowledge what's said with a nod or whatever. I'm struggling to come up with different ways to say 'she nodded' without sounding like I only know one sentance and I have to put it in at least once every page."

    Her aunt nodded sypathetically and reached for Chase's manuscript.

    "Do you have any suggestions about this? Have you encountered it? Have you overcome it?" Chase's nose became stuffy again, and she got up from her chair. "Want some tea, Auntie?"

    "I'll take a look. Yes, thank you, I'll have a cup, too."

    For the first time all evening, Chase felt relieved.

    ***

    I don't know. I think about how real talk would go and try to interject some of the behavior going on in places where it a character might be likely to take a breath of some kind. I don't worry so much about dialogue tags as to try to avoid them by infusing the story with some little gesture that might help support the image or story or reveal personalilty or character.
     
  11. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^ haha, nice job, Molly. :) The various ways to do it are there, and they all read/sound natural.
     
  12. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Oh, thanks, Marina. Sometimes I find new little threads I like that seem significant and useful by trying out gestures and such in various dialogue corners. So, I think it's kind of fun to experiment with.
     
  13. ChaseRoberts
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    ChaseRoberts Senior Member

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    Magic. That's brilliant. :)

    Thanks
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    She nodded.

    She agreed with her usual nod.

    She agreed with a tilt of her head.

    It's going to be hard to find ways to say she nodded.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, unless she is channelling her inner bobblehead toy, she won't be nodding fequently enough to worry about.
     
  16. ChaseRoberts
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    ChaseRoberts Senior Member

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    Actually, it's a sort of nervous tic she has when she's being spoken to. Nodding and twisting her hands together. Usually she's not actually spoken to that much, but in the past two chapters, the focus has tilted on her, so there's a lot of trying to describe her physical actions when the attention is focused on her.

    I printed out the past few chapters and read over them though, and it seems to read alright (apart from the epic glaring errors that one tends to find when one prints out ones own work). I'm just going to have to work on her. Perhaps give her another nervous tic that's easier to come up with several ways of saying.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can take it out of direct narration and put into reactions. She can notice that her neck feels tight, and she makes a conscious effort to hold her head still. Someone else may look at her with concern, niticing that she is nodding more compulsively than usual. Thes "summary reactions" can spare you having to continually insert the nodding or the hand wringing throughout the dialogue.
     

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